Cholesterol: Know Your Numbers!

cholesterol.pngIt’s now 2017 and a great place to begin a trend in evaluating your nutritional status. When was the last time you had a checkup, blood work drawn or your cholesterol checked? When something went wrong? Let us aim for prevention and not a health crisis this year.

Let’s take a look at cholesterol, which can be a confusing topic.  What is cholesterol? Cholesterol is fat in our blood known as lipoproteins that we ingest from animal-based foods (proteins and dairy) or we create cholesterol in the liver.  Too much cholesterol can build up in the heart and cause complications.

Where should our cholesterol numbers be?
A few kinds of cholesterol that need routine evaluation and monitoring are…

Total Cholesterol is exactly that, multiple types of cholesterol in the body, calculated as one total number. These are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and highdensity lipoproteins (HDL), as well as 20% of your Triglyceride levels (a topic for another day). I am referring to two today, the lousy (LDL) or happy(HDL) cholesterol. We can typically keep this total number within normal ranges with a combination of healthy dietary intake and exercise, unless we have high numbers that are hereditary, which can then be more difficult to control.

LDL Cholesterol is the majority of cholesterol in our blood that can build up over time. We MUST keep LDL levels as close to normal ranges as possible to prevent blockage in the arteries. High intake of bad fats such as trans fats and saturated fats (solid fats at room temp. like butter, shortening, and lard) are known to increase LDL numbers.

HDL Cholesterol is a carrier of cholesterol to the liver. We want this number as high as possible. Exercise is what drives the HDL number up and may reduce risk of heart diseases.

Type
Good
Borderline
Not Good
Total Cholesterol 170mg/dL or lower 170-199mg/dL 200mg/dL or higher
LDL (Bad/Lousy) 110mg/dL 110-129mg/dL 130mg/dL or higher
HDL (Good/Happy) 45mg/dL or higher 40-45mg/dL
(higher is better)
40mg/dL or lower

High cholesterol monitoring should begin around age 35 and as we age, we require regular screening. However, if there is an increased risk of high cholesterol due to a family history, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and other conditions/factors then first screening might should begin at age 9-16 or younger if issues arise. Is this news to you? Please talk to your physician and pediatrician to determine what is appropriate for your family.

The American Heart Association recommends cholesterol testing begin around ages 20 to 35 for men and women who have higher risk factors for heart disease. More info here: Heart Disease Risk Factors

What can you do to reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol?
Lifestyle changes can dramatically make a difference.

  • Increase fruits (2 servings/day) and vegetables (3/day)
  • Eat more fiber from whole grains. (Fiber binds to fat but still limit high fat choices)
  • Switch to healthy fats: Olive oil, avocado, and nuts all have fats that will not raise your LDL.
  • Limit cholesterol intake: Reduce the amount of highsaturated fat foods like cheese, whole milk, and high-fat red meats. Choose low-fat dairy when possible.
  • Exercise: Physical activity may help you lose weight or tone muscle and boosts your HDL levels. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes a day of moderate cardio.
  • Reduce and avoid processed foods: especially those high in sugar and carbohydrates.
  • Quit smoking, you can do it.

Finally, how much fat should you be eating? Use this Fats-Translator to calculate recommended fat intake.

When was the last time you scheduled a checkup with blood work to evaluate how things are going? Do you know your cholesterol numbers? Check out some of these sites for more tips on lowering cholesterol:

Watch and Learn Cholesterol Score Animation

10 Ways to Reduce Cholesterol

About Cholesterol

High Cholesterol Foods to Avoid

5 Ways to Add Fruits and Veggies

Kids and Cholesterol

Hospitality Dietitian Mindy Diller, MS, RDN, LD   mindy.diller@ttu.edu 

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