The two sources of cholesterol are food and your own body. Only 25% of the body’s cholesterol comes from food and the rest is produced naturally in your cells and liver. The good news is that you won’t have to give up every egg and cookie to maintain a healthy heart. In fact, even if you are predisposed to heart disease or diabetes, there are many simple lifestyle modifications that you can make to ensure that you live the healthy, happy life you’ve imagined.
The bad cholesterol you’ve probably heard so much about is called Low Density Lipoprotein. The good type goes bad when it stops transporting and oxidizes from exposure to free radicals, leading to conditions like atherosclerosis. If you have 160mg or more of LDL per day, then you have a high level of harmful cholesterol. By contrast, high density Lipoprotein (or HDL) is known as “good cholesterol.” It helps one-fourth to one-third of blood cholesterol to be carried from the arteries to the liver by HDL. Doctors recommend that you have more than 40mg of HDL to lower your risk of heart disease.
As you eat, your body uses the calories it needs and converts leftovers to triglycerides. While some are helpful, excess can lead to metabolic syndrome, which results in diabetes, strokes, heart disease or heart attacks. “Even if you control bad LDL cholesterol to less than 70, you still need to look at triglycerides,” said Dr. Leslie Cho, a cardiologist at the Women’s Cardiovascular Center of the Cleveland Clinic.
There are a few common misconceptions about cholesterol. For instance, some people think that simply switching from butter to margarine will help. However, both are still high in fat and should be used sparingly. Secondly, just because your food labels brag that there is no cholesterol, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t high levels of saturated fat. Be sure to check labels before you go gobbling! Thirdly, being young or on medication doesn’t prevent you from needing to exercise and watch what you eat. Meeting with a dietician is a short, painless experience that can add many years to your life!