Cholesterol: Know Your Numbers

Me: How’s your blood work?

 Hubby: The doctor said my cholesterol was a little high.

 Me: What was it?

 Hubby: I don’t know.

 Me: (staring at him with my mouth open).

This is an over-dramatization, but the point is clear. It is common for folks not to know or ask their doctor about their cholesterol numbers. You noticed I said numbers with an ‘s.’ There is more than one number that you need to know when it comes to cholesterol.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that our liver makes to help form hormones and is used as a component of our cell membranes. It is primarily found in animal proteins, thus being made by the liver. Since our body makes it, does this mean we are producing too much cholesterol, thus the high number.? Yes! But, generally, that number is based on how much additional cholesterol we eat from our DIET! For example, 3 ounces of veal is 128 mg cholesterol versus 1 cup of skim milk has only 7 mg.

So let’s talk numbers. I know, but I won’t make it too hard! Here is what is recommended by the American Heart Association:

Total Cholesterol    (mg/dL) <200
LDL Cholesterol    (mg/dL) <100
HDL Cholesterol    (mg/dL) >50 in women; >40 in men
Triglycerides (mg/dL) <150

Know your numbers to help you lower your risk of heart disease. Knowing total cholesterol is not enough. Know your ratio between total cholesterol and your “bad (loser)” LDL cholesterol versus your “good (happy)” HDL cholesterol. Higher levels of HDL can reduce your blood cholesterol levels and your risk for heart disease. Lifestyle is a contributing factor, such as, weight, smoking, exercise. But, so is genetics (age, family history, sex).

Here is how you can improve the HDL cholesterol (while lowering the LDL cholesterol):
• Increase physical activity
• Weight loss (if needed)
• Decrease (or avoid) foods with saturated fat (i.e. butter, high-marbled meats)
• Avoid trans-fats
• Increase foods with monounsaturated fats (i.e. olive oil, avocado, walnuts, flax seed)
• Don’t smoke

Lifestyle changes have the biggest impact on your cholesterol levels. By making small changes to your daily diet you can help meet your target HDL levels while improving your overall total cholesterol.

About Sharon M., MS RD

As a registered dietitian and a master gardener, I know the healing power of food. Nothing has given me more satisfaction than growing my own food. I have experience working in the public health field, including school districts. I have worked with pregnant moms, children, diabetics, and bariatric patients. I emphasis a plant-based, whole food diet. Yet, I appreciate the movement of eating sustainably, while hoping folks appreciate the bean as a source of protein. "To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art." - Francois de La Rochefoucauld "Feeding is going well if both you and yor child are having a good time." -Ellyn Satter
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