Cholesterol is a waxy substance in the blood made by the liver
Some cholesterol is healthy, but when there's too much in the blood, it can build up on the walls of the blood vessels. Healthy eating and exercising are excellent ways to lower cholesterol.
However, sometimes cholesterol medicine is needed, which should be taken just as prescribed to help lower your cholesterol as part of a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Cholesterol can be checked with a simple blood test at your physician's office, health fair, pharmacy or other location.
A small blood sample is taken from your finger or arm. Depending on the type of cholesterol test, you may need to avoid eating for several hours beforehand.
You should have your cholesterol checked as often as your physician or healthcare provider recommends. This may be every five years or more often, depending on your overall health.
Total cholesterol: This number is the total amount of cholesterol in your blood. The higher the number, the more likely it is that cholesterol is affecting your health.
- HDL: Known as the "good" cholesterol, HDL carries excess cholesterol out of the blood
- LDL: Known as the "bad" cholesterol, LDL can stick to blood vessel walls, reducing or blocking blood flow
- Triglycerides: These are a type of fat in the blood. When needed, your body uses triglycerides for energy
Choosing between fats
- Monounsaturated fats lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Mostly found in vegetable oils such as olive, canola and peanut oils, monounsaturated fats are also in avocados and some nuts
- Polyunsaturated fats lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. They are mostly found in vegetable oils such as corn, safflower and soybean oils. These fats are also found in some seeds, nuts and fish
- Saturated fats raise total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. These fats are in animal products such as meat, poultry, milk, lard and butter. They're also found in coconut and palm oils Trans fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol.
- Trans fats are in hydrogenated oils and are found in processed foods such as cookies, crackers and some types of margarine. Note: No trans fat means less than 0.5 grams trans fat per serving, even though hydrogenated oil is listed in the ingredients
Start eating healthier
When shopping, compare food labels for low-fat, low-cholesterol choices; when eating out, check the menu for low-fat or heart-healthy options
- White-meat chicken and turkey without the skin
- Egg whites or egg substitutes
- Fat-free or low-fat milk and dairy products
- Whole-grain oatmeal flavored with fresh fruit
- Fresh fruit and veggies with low-fat dressing or hummus
- Red meats, especially high-fat cuts and organ meats
- Whole eggs with yolks
- Whole milk
- Packaged oatmeal flavored with sugar and salt
- Potato chips and dip
Cook in healthier ways
- Steam, microwave, broil, grill or bake food. Avoid frying
- Use nonstick sprays or cookware instead of butter or margarine
- Choose skinless chicken, turkey and fish. Trim extra fat before cooking
- Replace each egg in a recipe with two egg whites
- Try fat-free, butter-flavored powders instead of butter
- Use reduced-fat salad dressings and mayonnaise
Medication for high cholesterol
Healthy eating and exercising are excellent ways to lower cholesterol. However, you may need something more. If your physician prescribes cholesterol medication, use these tips to stay on track:
- Follow the directions on when and how often to take the cholesterol medicine
- Tell your physician about any other medications, herbs or supplements you are taking now
- Remember to take your cholesterol medication. Don't skip a dose, even if your cholesterol goes down
- Take your cholesterol medicine with a glass of water. Ask if your medication needs to be taken with food
- Call your physician if you have side effects. You should never stop taking your cholesterol medicine without your physician's approval