High cholesterol is associated with increased risk for heart disease, the number-one killer of women and men in the United States. Going to your doctor for a routine blood test will help you learn if you have high cholesterol. If you do, it's possible to reduce your cholesterol levels through diet and lifestyle modifications.
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Cholesterol is a type of fat naturally found in the body but also consumed by eating certain foods. Necessary for proper hormone production and proper digestion, cholesterol levels in a healthy range are ideal. Too much of it leads to sticky plaques floating through the blood, potentially clogging blood vessels. Two types of cholesterol exist -- HDL, called "good" cholesterol, and LDL, considered "bad" cholesterol. Triglycerides are not a form of cholesterol but a fat often measured in cholesterol testing; high triglycerides often correlate with high cholesterol.
Blood tests that measure total lipid profile will give you four numbers. First, total cholesterol indicates overall cholesterol in your system -- levels over 200 mg/dL are considered high. LDL levels under 100 mg/dL are ideal, but anywhere under 130 mg/dL is considered good. Levels over 160 mg/dL are considered high LDL and increase the risk for heart disease. Higher levels of HDL, on the other hand, indicate a lower risk for heart disease, so levels over 60 mg/dL are optimal. However, HDL under 40 mg/dL is a major risk factor for heart disease and needs to be elevated. Triglyceride levels should be under 150.
Foods high in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol should be limited if you have high cholesterol. Saturated fats and cholesterol comes from consuming animal food products, while trans fats are found in foods made with hydrogenated oils and fats. Avoid animal organs, such as kidney, brain and liver, because they contain a lot of cholesterol. Shrimp should also be limited for this reason. Egg yolks contain high cholesterol and should be limited to two servings or less per week. Limit your intake of French fries, stick margarine and crackers -- all are examples of foods rich in trans fat.
If you have high cholesterol, you need to reduce it to lower your risk for heart disease. Modifying your diet to include more fruits, vegetables and whole grains is a good start. Avoid high-cholesterol foods and choose poultry, seafood and lean red meats as protein sources. Because obesity and smoking are a risk factors for high cholesterol, incorporating routine exercise into your life and quitting smoking will provide you better overall health and decrease your risk for high cholesterol and heart disease.