We hear the term cholesterol all the time, with references to good and bad food, and possible health implications. But do you really know what it is, and how to make healthy, educated choices? Let’s break all the complicated research down into some fun facts and manageable bits of information so that you don’t fall victim to cholesterol myths and build up fatty deposits in your artery walls that increase your risk for heart attack and stroke!
1. Cholesterol comes in two “flavors.”
Cholesterol is categorized either as high density lipoprotein (HDL) or low density lipoprotein (LDL). Too low an HDL reading is bad, just as too high an LDL reading can be equally detrimental. A proper HDL level can actually help control the level of LDL in your body. As part of your annual physical exam, your doctor may order a fasting blood test to determine, among other things, your cholesterol reading. A total cholesterol score of less than 200 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter) is considered optimal.
2. Cholesterol is in more foods than you think.
The good news is that all you need to do to determine whether packaged food contains cholesterol is read the label. And most fruits and vegetables are cholesterol free! You may be surprised to know that certain foods like avocados and nuts actually contain a fair amount of cholesterol, but it’s more of the HDL type, which actually helps keep the unhealthy LDL in check. Good rule of thumb: If it’s deep fried, best to steer clear. And there are tons of websites and cookbooks available that offer excellent alternative recipes and hints for making food healthier if you’re watching your cholesterol.
3. Eggs are not peoples’ primary source of cholesterol.
Eggs have gotten a bad rap over the years as the first and worst thing people were told to eliminate from their diet if they have high cholesterol. This is not necessarily the case. Like most foods that are on the upper end of the cholesterol scale, moderation is the key. And the amount of beneficial protein found in eggs can often outweigh the cholesterol they contain. The most prominent source of cholesterol for most people is red meat, which is why it’s recommended that we limit (not necessarily eliminate) the amount of red meat in our diets.
4. High cholesterol does not necessarily mean a lifetime of medication.
Cholesterol can often be decreased and controlled by changing what you eat and how much you eat, and adding a regular exercise program. While it’s not always the answer, limiting certain foods, like those containing animal fats, can go a long way in controlling LDL levels. At the same time, higher fiber foods such as oatmeal have been proven to help your body capture and remove the LDL, essentially lowering your overall cholesterol level.
5. Just because your “total” cholesterol level is OK, doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.
The old school thinking that you’re fine as long as your overall cholesterol level is under 200mg/dl no longer applies. Both numbers count independently. Research has shown that a higher HDL level can help reduce an unacceptable LDL level. And a higher LDL can outweigh a lower HDL and be cause for concern. Consult your personal physician to learn about your specific results.
In short, read package labels, talk to your doctor, and educate yourself regarding where cholesterol “hides.” While research findings can be confusing (to say the least), most experts agree that regular exercise is the most surefire way to keep your cholesterol levels under control. It’s your body and you are worth the effort it takes to be sure you are doing everything you can to live a long, healthy, and fulfilling life!