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Cholesterol – the Good, the Bad and the Confusing

cholesterol diagram

Cholesterol. A common term we have heard in regards to our heart health. You’ve probably been warned about its artery-clogging dangers and have your cholesterol checked at every annual physical. However, many people don’t know that there are good and bad cholesterol. The body makes cholesterol and it is essential for your body to function properly. Here’s just a few ways that cholesterol does a body good:

  • Helps in the production of essential hormones
  • Helps in the production of bile, which helps digest fatty foods
  • Synthesizes Vitamin D

So, with so much information out there, how can one know whether or not to be concerned? Here’s a few tips to help you navigate through the confusion:

There is both “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol. The bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) is the kind that tends to deposit on the walls of your arteries, which can lead to plaque growth and, eventually atherosclerosis, which can block the free flow of blood throughout your body, leading to heart attack and/or stroke.

Good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein or HDL) on the other hand, can remove bad cholesterol from the body. HDL actually cleans the walls of your arteries, ridding the body of the buildup of plaque caused by LDL. So having an overall cholesterol number from your doctor tells you very little – you need to know how much is “good” (HDL) and how much is “bad” (LDL). Fortunately, most doctors now routinely screen for both types of cholesterol and can give you an accurate summary of your good to bad cholesterol levels.

The numbers you get from your doctor by themselves are not enough to predict your risk of disease or illness. They’re simply one indicator that is part of a much larger picture. Other risk factors including you age, blood pressure, and whether or not you smoke. That being said, here’s some general guidelines of what to look for:

Total cholesterol: Ideally, should be below 200. The lower the number, the better.

LDL cholesterol: Ideally, below 130. The lower the number, the better.

HDL cholesterol: Ideally, above 60. The higher the number, the better.

With so much information out there, it can be confusing to know what to do. Here’s some tips that can help improve your cholesterol numbers and benefit your overall health:

  • Eat well – this includes eating a lot of fiber-rich foods such as oats, barley, and other whole grains; fresh fruits and vegetables; and limiting your intake of highly processed foods, trans fats, and . Other foods considered particularly beneficial include healthy fats such as those found in wild salmon, sardines, herring, avocados, olive oil and nuts.
  • Exercise – just 30 minutes a day can pump up your HDL levels and help you maintain a healthy weight. Obesity if a major risk factor in atherosclerosis and heart disease as well as numerous other diseases.
  • Don’t smoke – Tobacco lowers HDL levels and quitting can increase HDL.

If you’re not sure whether or not you should be concerned, talk to your doctor or a Fedelta Care Manager. A Fedelta care manager can assess your risks and direct you to a healthcare professional who can help manage your cholesterol levels if it’s determined they are too high.

This article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Speak to your doctor and/or a registered dietitian if you have questions about your nutritional needs.

Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2016, IlluminAge

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