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Cholesterol: What You Need to Know

tomatoes, fresh, red sliced

Cholesterol has been in the news since the 1950s and even today continues to ‘make the news’. While cardiovascular disease rates soared here in the United States and other industrialized countries, other countries had low rates of heart disease.  When comparing cholesterol levels, intake of saturated fats, and cardiovascular disease rates, a “strong association” was found between the consumption of saturated fat, cholesterol levels, and heart disease.

 What is Cholesterol? 

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that occurs naturally in all parts of the body and is produced from the fats we eat. Our bodies need some cholesterol to work properly because cholesterol is part of the building blocks for cell walls and various hormones. But if you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can combine with other substances and stick to the walls of our arteries. This is called PLAQUE. Plaque can narrow your arteries or even block them.Accumulation of cholesterol and fats along the walls of your arteries (a process known as atherosclerosis) decreases blood flow and, therefore, the oxygen supply to your heart, brain, and other parts of your body. Thus, the goal is to lower our blood level of cholesterol and fats to help prevent heart disease, angina (chest pain), strokes, and heart attacks.


Know your Numbers.

High levels of cholesterol in the blood can increase our risk of heart disease. There are no physical signs or symptoms when you have high blood cholesterol; only a blood test (lipid panel) reveals their levels. There are two types of cholesterol: “bad” LDL-cholesterol and “good” HDL-cholesterol. The bad type (LDL) burrows into arterial walls and forms the foundation for plaque while the good type (HDL) carries cholesterol and LDLs to the liver for elimination. 

Check your numbers on the chart below to determine if you are at a high risk for heart disease:

Type of Cholesterol

High Risk (mg/dL)

Borderline High (mg/dL)

Desirable       (mg/dL)

TC (total cholesterol)

Above 239


Below 200

HDL ("good") cholesterol-Aim HIGH

Less than 35


Above 60

LDL ("bad") cholesterol

Strive for LOW

Above 190


Below 100 ( a level between 100-129 is near optimal)


What Can I Do?

Overall, you can stop the progression of heart disease by lowering your total and LDL-cholesterol by:

  1. Stop smoking.

  2. Reduce excess body fat (especially abdominal fat) if you are overweight or obese.

  3. Become and stay physically active. (Good news! For every one-point increase in HDL levels, you can reduce heart attack risk by 3 to 4 percent!)

  4. Replace high-sugar and high-fat foods (desserts) with nature’s candy of fresh fruits. Ditto for high calorie sodas…replace with no-calorie waters.

  5. Replace solid (at room temp) fats with liquid vegetable fats, such as canola and olive oils. Eat no more than 30% of your total daily calories from total fat (somewhere between 25-65 gms in a day)

  6. Eat beans, nuts and fish twice a week.

  7. Enjoy and include more plant-based, vegetable and whole grain foods.

  8. When eating animal-based foods, choose lean cuts of red meat and poultry without the skin.

  9. Read food labels to keep your saturated fat under 22 gms in a day and your daily sodium intake under 2,400 mgs.

  10. Prepare recipes that have no trans-fat, use healthy fats, and are controlled for total fat, calories, and carbs by using any of the cookbooks found in the Cookbooks section of this website.


© 2014 Linda Hachfeld, MPH, RDN

All Rights Reserved