Less than 200 and above 240. Less than 100 and above 190. Less than 40 and above 60. These may sound like random numbers, but each one can tell you something very important about cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is carried in the blood in particles called lipoproteins. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs to produce hormones, vitamin D and substances to help digest food. But if you eat foods that are high in cholesterol, it can build up inside blood vessels and slow down or block blood flow. This could cause a heart attack or stroke.

There are two kinds of cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins (LDL), which carry cholesterol in the bloodstream and can buildup in the arteries causing heart disease, and high-density lipoproteins (HDL), which carry cholesterol back to the liver to remove it from the body. Ideally, you want to have high HDL levels and low LDL levels.

A simple blood test can tell you if your total cholesterol is less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood), which is desirable. If that number is over 240 mg/dL, you have high cholesterol. An optimal LDL level is less than 100 mg/dL, while anything over 190 mg/dL is considered very high. A HDL level less than 40 mg/dL is a major risk factor for heart disease; any number above 60 mg/dL is considered protective against heart disease.

Cholesterol levels in the blood can be affected by your diet, weight, exercise, heredity, age and gender. You cannot control all these factors, but you can make certain lifestyle changes to help lower your cholesterol, such as not smoking, being physically active for 30 minutes most days, maintaining a healthy weight and not drinking excessively. Your doctor also may prescribe certain medications to bring cholesterol under control. Different drugs available include statins, bile acid sequestrants, nicotinic acid, fibric acids and cholesterol absorption inhibitors. These cholesterol-lowering drugs should be taken while following healthy lifestyle choices.

A healthy diet will play an important role in helping to lower cholesterol. You should limit high fat foods such as:
  • Whole milk, cream and ice cream
  • Butter, egg yolks and cheese
  • Organ and certain processed meats, including kidneys, salami, sausage and hot dogs
  • Fatty snacks and desserts, like candy, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, pastries and pies
  • Solid fats and saturated oils, including shortening, lard, coconut oil and palm oil
  • Fried foods
Instead, eat foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol, including:
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Grain products, such as bread, cereal, rice and pasta
  • Fat-free and low-fat dairy products
  • Lean meat and poultry without skin
  • Fatty fish, such as salmon
  • Beans and peas
  • Unsaturated vegetable oils, like canola, corn, olive or safflower oil.

High cholesterol does not have any symptoms, but it can be easily monitored and controlled.

For more information about managing your cholesterol and having it checked regularly, talk with your doctor or call 866-904-9262 for a free referral to a physician near you.