The Skinny on Cholesterol

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It can be a nightmare, trying to sort through all the news on good cholesterol, bad LDL), the so-called “bad” cholesterol, or high-density (HDL), the “good” cholesterol.

What makes them “good” or “bad” is determined by the amount of cholesterol center and protein shell. The good cholesterol has more protein and less cholesterol; the bad cholesterol has more cholesterol and less protein. The composition of the good cholesterol molecule prevents the buildup of cholesterol in your . But the bad cholesterol molecule can lead to buildup, and eventual blockage, of your arteries.

The Problem With High Cholesterol

If your diet is too high in saturated and/or trans fats, or if you have an inherited condition, the cholesterol in your blood can reach dangerously high levels. Other factors, like diabetes and hypothyroidism, can also raise your blood cholesterol.

High levels of cholesterol can put you at risk for a host of life-threatening cardiovascular ( and circulatory system) diseases. To reduce the risk of these diseases, your goal is to lower total cholesterol and to aim for high levels of good cholesterol and low levels of bad cholesterol. And one of the best routes to a healthier heart is a cholesterol-lowering diet.

Your doctor will determine if you are a candidate for cholesterol-lowering based on your blood cholesterol profile. But even those on medication can benefit from lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, weight loss, and smoking cessation.

Indeed, one of the best ways to prevent and control high cholesterol is by eating healthy, exercising, and losing weight (if you’re too heavy). The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein, with a limit of 300 mg of cholesterol per day, and less than 30% of its calories from fat. The WebMD Weight Loss Clinic recommends a heart-healthy diet to all its members.

To ensure heart health and help lower cholesterol, here are some recommendations about foods and nutrients to include in your diet:

Finally, don’t forget exercise. Physical activity goes a long way toward helping you lose weight, while increasing “good” cholesterol and decreasing “bad” cholesterol. And along with a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and whole grains, exercise can help lower blood pressure. To reap these benefits, experts suggest a total of 30-60 minutes per day of physical activity (it doesn’t all have to come at the same time).

It’s never too late to improve the health of your heart. Start today by taking steps to control your cholesterol, lose weight, and improve your diet. Your reward will be a longer, healthier life.