There’s a lot of talk today about cholesterol and the need to maintain normal cholesterol levels. How much do you really know about this compound and why maintaining healthy levels is so important? Here are some basics you should keep in mind about cholesterol, what it does, and how you can ensure your levels are within an acceptable range.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a steroid alcohol that is found in animal products and is used throughout the body. Consuming animal products is the primary way humans ingest cholesterol. When the levels are within a healthy range, cholesterol supports efficient organ function, helps the body produce vitamin D, supports hormone production, and aids in the creation of digestive fluids.
Two forms of this steroid alcohol are found in the body: LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. Maintaining acceptable levels of both is important to your health.
What’s the Difference Between Good and Bad Cholesterol?
Low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol is normally referred to as bad cholesterol. It’s the low-density lipoprotein that carries the cholesterol from the liver to various organs in the body. While a healthy level of this type of cholesterol is good for you, high levels can lead to the collection of fat in the arteries. The buildup increases the chances of experiencing a stroke, heart attack, or other type of cardiovascular issue.
High-density lipoprotein or HDG cholesterol is referred to as good cholesterol. It helps to flush excess LDL or bad cholesterol out of the system, specifically the bloodstream. When the two forms of cholesterol are properly balanced, you are less likely to develop any type of cardiovascular issue.
Understanding Normal Cholesterol Levels for Males and Females
Overall, men and women over the age of 20 should have a total cholesterol level of no more than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Of that figure, both genders should seek to maintain an HDL cholesterol level of 60 mg/dL. This would mean a healthy level of LDL cholesterol would be no more than 140 mg/dL for all adults.
Women with HDL levels of less than 50 mg/dL are at a greater risk of developing heart problems. Men with levels under 40 mg/dL are also more likely to develop some type of heart disease.
Lowering Bad Cholesterol While Increasing Good Cholesterol
Exercise is key to regaining a proper balance. A brisk walk for 30 minutes daily will help raise good levels and in turn bring bad cholesterol levels back within a normal range. Additional exercise two or three times a week will also help you shed excess weight.
There are certain foods that lower cholesterol. These should be included in your diet on a daily basis. You will also want to avoid or limit certain foods in order to achieve your cholesterol goals.
Foods That You Should Add to Your Diet
Many of the foods that lower cholesterol of the bad type are fruits and vegetables. They tend to provide plenty of fiber while introducing little to no cholesterol into the system. Dark green leafy vegetables like kale, collards, and mustard greens provide plenty of fiber, a wide range of nutrients, and will help reduce bad cholesterol levels. In like manner, fresh fruit like berries, apples, and grapes should be part of your diet.
You also want to rethink how you prepare certain foods. Instead of fried chicken, go for baked chicken that does not include the skin. Substitute low-fat dairy products for their whole counterparts. Lean cuts of beef are better for you than fattier cuts.
Monitoring cholesterol levels is important for everyone, but especially important for people with chronic conditions like type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Anyone over the age of 50 should also have their cholesterol levels checked at least once a year. With proper care, it is possible to control cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.