The Skinny on Cholesterol
Here's what you need to know to keep yours low
It can be a nightmare, trying to sort through all the news on good
cholesterol, bad cholesterol, saturated fats, trans fats, and all those other
Fear no more. Read on for a primer on everything you need to know about
cholesterol (Call it Cholesterol 101).
Cholesterol is a type of waxy substance (called a lipid) that your body
needs for many functions, including the production of new cells.
You get cholesterol from two sources: Internally, your body makes
cholesterol; and externally, you get cholesterol from foods you eat.
Though it seems logical that foods containing cholesterol would raise levels
of cholesterol in your blood, the worst dietary culprits are actually foods
high in saturated fats (mostly from animal sources) and/or trans
fats (often found in commercially prepared products).
Here are a few examples of foods high in those two types of fat:
|Saturated Fats||Trans Fats|
|Lard, shortening||Processed foods|
|Butter, cheese||Baked goods, cookies, chips|
|Animal fats||Products w/hydrogenated fats|
|Coconut and palm oils||Fried foods|
|Meats, poultry||Margarines, spreads|
Think of cholesterol as sort of like a chocolate M&M in the blood: the
center is the cholesterol, and the outer shell is a protein "carrier"
that transports the molecule through the blood. The molecule it carries is
called a lipoprotein, and it is classified as either a low-density
lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called "bad" cholesterol, or high-density
(HDL), the "good" cholesterol.
What makes them "good" or "bad" is determined by the amount
of cholesterol center and protein shell. The good cholesterol has more protein
and less cholesterol; the bad cholesterol has more cholesterol and less
protein. The composition of the good cholesterol molecule prevents the buildup
of cholesterol in your arteries. But the bad cholesterol molecule can lead to
buildup, and eventual blockage, of your arteries.
The Problem With High Cholesterol
If your diet is too high in saturated and/or trans fats, or if you have an
inherited condition, the cholesterol in your blood can reach dangerously high
levels. Other factors, like diabetes and hypothyroidism, can also raise your
High levels of cholesterol can put you at risk for a host of
life-threatening cardiovascular (heart and circulatory system) diseases. To
reduce the risk of these diseases, your goal is to lower total cholesterol and
to aim for high levels of good cholesterol and low levels of bad cholesterol.
And one of the best routes to a healthier heart is a cholesterol-lowering
Your doctor will determine if you are a candidate for cholesterol-lowering
medication based on your blood cholesterol profile. But even those on
medication can benefit from lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, regular
exercise, weight loss, and smoking cessation.
Indeed, one of the best ways to prevent and control high cholesterol
is by eating healthy, exercising, and losing weight (if you're too heavy). The
American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a diet that includes plenty of
fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein, with a limit
of 300 mg of cholesterol per day, and less than 30% of its calories from fat.
The WebMD Weight Loss Clinic recommends a heart-healthy diet to all its