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Self-Care: Lowering Your Cholesterol

Proven Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol

MILLIONS OF AMERICANS have high cholesterol. If you're one of them you need to take the condition seriously.

High cholesterol significantly increases your risk of heart attack, stroke and other vascular diseases.

Your family history, gender and age can affect how your body deals with cholesterol.

But most people with high cholesterol can benefit from changes in lifestyle and behavior that reduce bad LDL cholesterol and raise good HDL cholesterol levels.


A blood test can give you a reading of your total, LDL and HDL cholesterol levels.

Less than 200 mg/dl total cholesterol is considered desirable, 200 to 239 is borderline high, and 240 or more is high. Someone in the borderline-high range has twice the risk of heart attack as someone whose level is below 200.

Excess LDL (""bad"") cholesterol can form plaque, which builds up in the arteries serving your heart and brain. A blood clot in an artery clogged with plaque can cut off your blood supply, causing a heart attack or stroke. An LDL level of less than 100 mg/dl is optimal.

HDL (""good"") cholesterol may protect you by carrying cholesterol out of the body. An HDL level of at least 40 mg/dl for a man and 50 for a woman is average; less than 35 mg/dl is low and can increase the risk of heart disease.

The following steps can lower your cholesterol if you have high total or LDL cholesterol.


Americans tend to eat high-fat diets. But many people can reduce their LDL cholesterol levels significantly by eating more healthful foods.

A low-cholesterol diet includes:

Less dietary cholesterol. Cholesterol that comes into your body from foods can raise your blood cholesterol level. The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 300 mg. of cholesterol a day.

Among foods high in cholesterol are egg yolks, dairy products, meat and poultry.

Less saturated fats. Saturated fatty acids, which also raise blood cholesterol, are found in: meats; whole-milk dairy products, including butter and cheese; lard, shortening and tropical oils, such as coconut, palm and palm-kernel oils.

Simple ways to reduce your fat intake include substituting skim milk for whole milk and using olive oil or canola oil instead of butter and lard. Instead of eating meat, eat deep-sea fish, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that may help protect against heart disease.

Lots of grains, fruits and vegetables. Those high in fiber may help control cholesterol. Foods rich in antioxidants -- beta carotene, vitamin C and Vitamin E -- may lower your risk of heart disease and other ailments.


Regular physical activity is one of the few ways you can raise your level of """"good"""" HDL cholesterol. Aerobic exercise and resistance training can also help you maintain a healthful weight and increase your overall cardiovascular fitness.


Your doctor may recommend you take a prescription medication if diet and exercise strategies don't make a difference in your cholesterol levels after three months.

Understanding the Language of Cholesterol

THE FOLLOWING DEFINITIONS will help you understand the role cholesterol plays in your health:

  • Atherosclerosis is a condition in which nodules or plaque made of cholesterol, fats and other compounds form on blood-vessel walls. Plaque buildup can obstruct blood flow. A heart attack occurs if there is complete blockage in a coronary artery; a stroke results if there is complete blockage in a cerebral artery.

  • Cholesterol is a white, waxy, fatlike substance found in the bloodstream and tissues of humans and all other animals. Thus, foods that are animal in origin such as beef, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, cheese and other dairy products, contain dietary cholesterol.

    The cholesterol in your bloodstream comes from eating such foods and from your liver, which manufactures cholesterol using the fats, proteins and carbohydrates you eat. These two types of cholesterol are chemically the same.

    Cholesterol serves useful purposes -- it's a part of cell membranes, it serves as insulation for nerve fibers and it's a building block for certain hormones. But in excess, it can lead to heart disease.

  • Lipids are greasy organic compounds that circulate in the bloodstream.

  • Lipoproteins are packages of proteins, cholesterol and triglycerides assembled by the liver.

  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) picks up cholesterol as it circulates in the bloodstream and brings it back to the liver for reprocessing or excretion. Think """"healthy"""" for HDL.

  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein) carries cholesterol through the bloodstream, depositing it where cells need it and leaving the residue on arterial walls. The plaque that is formed when the residue combines with oxygen causes the arterial blockages that lead to heart attacks. Think """"lousy"""" for LDL.

  • Triglycerides are fats that circulate in the bloodstream along with cholesterol and other lipids. Triglycerides come from fatty foods; they are also manufactured by the liver.

Easy Ways to Cut Back on Saturated Fats

NOTHING YOU EAT raises your cholesterol as much as foods that contain saturated fats such as butter, lard and palm and coconut oils.

Health professionals advise that your intake of all dietary fat be no more than 30% of your daily calories. You should reduce saturated fat to 10% or less of your calories. Trans fats, found in many processed and packaged foods, should be limited to less than 1% of your total daily calories.

It can be time-consuming to track your intake of fat. Instead, assume it's too high and use these strategies to lower it:

1. Cook with polyunsaturated oils (such as safflower or soybean) and monounsaturated oils (such as olive or canola).

2. Avoid foods high in saturated fats such as beef, dark-meat poultry and poultry skin, butter and other whole-milk dairy products. Switch to skim milk and low- or no-fat cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt.

3. Read food labels on processed foods, especially those on chips, cookies and crackers. These foods; many of which have "cholesterol-free" banners on their packaging because they contain no animal products--often are made with highly saturated tropical oils such as coconut, palm and palm kernel.

4. Steer clear of packaged foods that include trans fats on their food label or list "partially hydrogenated oils" in the ingredients.

5. Trim visible fat from meat before cooking. Remove the skin from chicken, turkey and duck before eating.

6. Cook the leanest cuts of meat; beef eye of round, tenderloin, sirloin, flank steak and pork tenderloin instead of rib eye, prime rib and spareribs.

7. Eat at least two meatless or low-meat meals a week. Try pasta with tomato sauce, bean burritos, vegetarian lasagna or a hearty vegetable-and-bean soup.

8. Eat more fish such as salmon or cod. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish may help raise HDL cholesterol and lower total cholesterol.

9. Broil, grill, bake, steam or poach foods instead of frying, sautéing or breading and frying.

10. Snack on fruits, carrot sticks, air-popped popcorn and low-fat crackers instead of chips and other high-fat snacks.

Total CholesterolBelow 200200 to 239240 or above
LDL (""bad"") CholesterolBelow 100Near or above optimal: 100-129

Borderline high: 130 to 159

High: 160-189

Very high: 190 or above

HDL (""good"") CholesterolAbove 40 in men, above 50 in women5; 60 and above is considered heart protective Below 40 in men; below 50 in women
Ratio of Total Cholesterol to HDL





Below 5:1

Below 5:1

Above 5:1

Above 5:1

How to Get an Accurate Cholesterol Test

HAVING YOUR cholesterol level checked is simple. But your total cholesterol reading could be off by up to 40 points (in either direction) if you don't take the right precautions, or the lab doesn't analyze the test accurately.

You should have your first cholesterol test at age 20, then get retested every five years, or more frequently if your total cholesterol is higher than 200. Also have your HDL and LDL levels checked because these figures help indicate your risk of developing heart disease.

These guidelines will help ensure accurate results:

  • Have your doctor or hospital personnel test your cholesterol. The quick finger-stick tests done at shopping malls and other public places can yield inaccurate results.

  • Don't eat for at least 9 hours before the test. You'll hardly notice you're fasting if you schedule the test for early morning. Eat a light, low-fat early dinner the night before.


The National Heart, Lung ande Blood Institute, call 800-575-WELL or visit

The American Heart Association, call 800-AHA-USA1 or visit

ATTENTION: Information delivered through Vitality-on-Demand(TM) is the opinion of the sourced authors and organizations. Personal decisions regarding health, diet, exercise or other matters should be made only after consultation with the reader's own medical and professional advisers. This material MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED FOR REDISTRIBUTION without written permission from Vitality®.


© 2011 Krames StayWell 2011. The information in this newsletter is intended to be used as a general guideline and should not replace the advice of your doctor. Always consult your doctor for personal decisions. Models used for illustrative purposes only. Material may not be reproduced without written permission from StayWell Custom Communications.