High levels of cholesterol in your blood can build up and narrow, or even block, your arteries, which can increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans contains cholesterol recommendations with a goal of increasing awareness about the benefits of controlling your cholesterol levels. See your physician for a cholesterol test.
Cholesterol, a fat-like substance found in all of your cells, is essential to your health in small amounts. Cholesterol helps your body produce vitamin D and substances that digest the foods you eat. Your body also needs cholesterol to make hormones. To move through your bloodstream, cholesterol is incorporated into small units called lipoproteins, which consist of fats, or lipids, on the inside and proteins on the outside.
Your body makes all the cholesterol needed for physiological functions, so getting cholesterol from your diet is unnecessary. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. Sticking to the recommended amount helps promote healthy cholesterol levels. You should get less than 200 milligrams of cholesterol per day if you have high cholesterol or other risk factors for heart disease.
Cholesterol is found exclusively in animal foods; the primary sources in the American diet are meat, egg yolks and dairy products. Eggs and egg-mixed dishes account for 25 percent of your total cholesterol intake, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. Chicken, beef dishes and beef burgers account for a large portion of total cholesterol intake as well.
It's crucial to know your cholesterol levels, and your physician can order a test. It will show your levels of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, the "bad" cholesterol; high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, the "good" cholesterol; and total cholesterol. Optimal LDL levels are below 100 milligrams per deciliter, while good HDL levels are 60 milligrams per deciliter and above. And even though the recommended level of total cholesterol is less than 300 milligrams per deciliter a day, you should aim to keep your total cholesterol below 200 milligrams a day.
Consuming a diet rich in cholesterol-lowering foods helps promote healthy cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber from foods such as oatmeal, oat bran, kidney beans, apples and pears binds cholesterol in your digestive system, inhibiting its entrance into circulation. Fish provides heart-healthy, omega-3 fatty acids, which lower LDL levels and help protect your heart. Nuts also contain contain heart-healthy fats; eating 2 ounces of nuts such as walnuts or almonds every day can slightly lower LDL, according to editors of the Harvard Heart Letter at Harvard Medical School.
- National Institutes of Health: Department of Health and Human Services: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: What Is Cholesterol?
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- USDA: Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion: Report of the DGAC on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010: Fatty Acids and Cholesterol
- National Institutes of Health: Department of Health and Human Services: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: National Cholesterol Education Program: Guidelines at a Glance Quick Desk Reference
- Harvard Medical School: Harvard Heart Letter: 11 Foods that Lower Cholesterol