Cholesterol – this word has such a bad connotation. People think cholesterol means heart disease, coronary artery disease, and death. Cholesterol itself isn’t bad, it is one of the many substances used by the body to keep us healthy. It is a main component in cell membranes, steroid hormones, bile acids, and helps to transform sunlight into vitamin D. About 75% of the cholesterol you need is made by the body, while the rest comes from the food we eat. What is important to know is that there is “good” and “bad” cholesterol. Having too much “bad” cholesterol and/or not enough “good” cholesterol can put you at a heath risk. HDL is the “good” cholesterol that prevents the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol from sticking to your artery walls. When too much LDL cholesterol is circulating in the blood it can clog arteries causing a heart attack or stroke. LDL is produced naturally by the body, but some genetics cause the body to generate too much LDL cholesterol. Also, eating saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol raises your LDL cholesterol. To increase your HDL or “good” cholesterol levels, you can reduce your intake of trans fat, eat a balanced nutritious diet, and engage in regular physical exercise.
Everyone is different – meet with your doctor to discuss your blood cholesterol levels. A registered dietitian can help plan a heart-healthy diet to help meet your cholesterol goals. If genetics has a large role in the problem, lifestyle modifications may not be enough – medication prescribed by your doctor may be the key.