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Cholesterol And Your Health

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol And Your Health Care Guide

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is made by your body. Cholesterol also comes from the foods you eat. Your body needs this fat to work properly, but high levels can lead to health problems.

What are the risks of unhealthy cholesterol levels?

Unhealthy cholesterol levels can build up in your arteries. The buildup of cholesterol is called plaque. As plaque builds up, your arteries become narrow and less blood flows through. This condition is called coronary artery disease. When plaque decreases blood flow to your heart, you may have chest pain. If plaque completely blocks an artery that carries blood to your heart, you may have a heart attack. Plaque buildup can also increase your risk of a stroke. Treatment can help to decrease your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Treatment includes changes to the foods you eat and lifestyle changes. It may also include medicine.


What should my cholesterol levels be?

Blood tests can be done to measure the amount of total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides in your blood. Most people should keep their cholesterol and triglycerides at the following levels:

  • Total cholesterol: Your total cholesterol level should be less than 200 (adults), and less than 170 (children).

    • HDL (good cholesterol): Your HDL level should be greater than 60. HDL is a protein that carries cholesterol from your blood to your liver. It is called good cholesterol because it helps to carry cholesterol from your blood to your liver. Your liver then gets rid of extra cholesterol.

    • LDL (bad cholesterol): Your LDL level should be less than 100. LDL is called bad cholesterol because high levels can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries.

  • Triglycerides: This is another type of fat found in your body. High levels of triglycerides increase your risk of coronary artery disease. Your level should be less than 150.

How does food affect my cholesterol levels?

  • Unhealthy fats: Foods that are high in cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat may cause unhealthy cholesterol levels.

    • Cholesterol: High amounts of cholesterol in the foods you eat can increase LDL levels. Cholesterol is found in eggs, dairy, and meat.

    • Saturated fat: High amounts of saturated fat also increase LDL levels. Butter, cheese, ice cream, whole milk, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil contain saturated fat. Saturated fat is also found in meat, such as beef, pork, chicken skin, sausage, hot dogs, and bologna.

    • Trans fat: Trans fat increases LDL levels and decreases HDL levels. Trans fats are found in liquid vegetable oils and are used in fried and baked foods. Foods that contain trans fats include chips, crackers, muffins, sweet rolls, microwave popcorn, and cookies.

  • Healthy fats: Unsaturated fats are healthy for you and can help to improve your cholesterol levels.

    • Monounsaturated fats: Monounsaturated fats are found in foods such as olive oil, canola oil, avocado, nuts, and olives.

    • Polyunsaturated fats: Omega 3 fats are a type of polyunsaturated fat that can help to decrease triglyceride levels. Omega 3 fats are found in fish such as mackerel, salmon, herring, trout, sardines, and tuna. Omega 3 fats can also be found in plant foods such as flaxseed, walnuts, and soybeans.

What changes can I make to the foods I eat?

  • Eat less fat: Decrease the total amount of fat you eat. Choose lean meats, fat-free or 1% fat milk, and low-fat dairy products such as yogurt and cheese.

  • Replace unhealthy fats with healthy fats: Cook foods in olive oil or canola oil. Choose soft margarines that are low in saturated fat and have very little or no trans fat.

  • Include fish in your diet: Eat 2 servings of fish each week. One serving is about 4 ounces. Fish is a good source of healthy omega 3 fats. Most fish contain some mercury, but many contain low levels that are not harmful to most people. High amounts of mercury can be harmful to pregnant women and children. Children and pregnant women should not eat fish that are high in mercury, such as shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. Fish that have lower amounts of mercury include salmon, canned light tuna, and catfish.

  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables: Include dark-colored fruits and vegetables such as peaches, berries, spinach, and carrots. They are good sources of vitamins that are important for good health.

  • Eat more fiber: Choose whole grain, high-fiber foods. High-fiber foods can decrease your risk of coronary artery disease. The 2 types of fiber are called insoluble and soluble fiber. Soluble fiber has been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol. Soluble fiber is found in legumes (beans), oats, and barley. Certain fruits and vegetables, such as apples, oranges, carrots, and brussel sprouts, are also good sources. Insoluble fiber is found in wheat products such as whole-wheat breads and cereals.

What lifestyle changes can I make to improve my cholesterol levels?

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Ask your caregiver how much you should weigh. Ask him to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight. Weight loss can decrease your total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Decrease the amount of calories you eat by 500 calories to help you lose weight. You can decrease calories by eating smaller portions for each meal and eating fewer high-calorie foods. High-calorie foods include desserts, sweet drinks, potato chips, and high-fat salad dressings and spreads. Ask your caregiver for more information about how to lose weight.

  • Exercise: Regular exercise can improve your cholesterol levels and decrease your risk for coronary artery disease. Regular exercise can also help you reach or maintain a healthy weight. Get 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise or 20 minutes of intense exercise on most days of the week. Include muscle strengthening activities 2 days each week, such as push-ups, sit-ups, and lifting weights. To lose weight, get at least 60 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. Work with your caregiver to plan the best exercise program for you.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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