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What is Cholesterol

There was a time when cholesterol was reported as a bad thing, that it was to be avoided in your diet at all costs. Fact is however- there are good and bad forms of cholesterol, and you should distinguish between each kind so you can make good choices about your diet. The different types of cholesterol are LDL and HDL cholesterols. LDL or low-density lipoprotein is undesirable as it can build up in the inner walls of your arteries. Together with other substances, it can form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can block the arteries. This leads to a condition called atherosclerosis where a heart attack or heart stroke can result.

HDL in High Quantities Prevent Heart Attacks

The good form of cholesterol is HDL or high-density lypo protein. When this good cholesterol is present in high quantities, it seems to actually help in inhibiting heart attacks. However, when the level of HDL is low, it can put the person at risk of heart disease.

Triglycerides

There is another aspect to cholesterol and that is triglyceride, which is a form of fat that is produced in the body. Triglycerides are important for good health as they serve to transport fats to cells. Fats provide a good source of energy as well as a great depot for storing it. However, when there is an excess level of triglycerides, you are at risk of having high total cholesterol in which you can get high LDL as well as low HDL, which can be bad for your health.

High level of triglycerides can be due to physical inactivity, overweight/obesity, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol consumption and a diet very high in carbohydrates (60 percent of total calories or more). People with high triglycerides usually have a high total cholesterol level, including a high LDL level and a low HDL level. Those with heart disease and/or diabetes also have high triglyceride levels.

Knowing Your Blood Cholesterol level

In order to determine your cholesterol level, you need to take a blood test that is aimed at measuring your lipoproteins.

Factors affecting your blood cholesterol level include your family history, age, gender, eating habits, body weight and shape, level of physical activity as well as concurrent diabetes conditions.

When it comes to your diet, the types of fat you consume determine the amount of total and LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream. It is important to substitute good fats for bad fats- trans fatty acids and saturated fats. Bad fats increase the risk for certain diseases. Good fats, meaning monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are reported to be good for the heart as they can improve blood cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, and play a number of other beneficial roles. Unsaturated fats are mainly found in plant foods, such as vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.

Cholesterol Levels

The Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program presents the levels for LDL, HDL and total cholesterol for the average adult 20 years and older as follows:

Classification of LDL, Total, HDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides (mg/dL)*

LDL Cholesterol
less than 100 Optimal
100-129 Near Optimal/Above Optimal
130-159 Borderline High
160-189 High
greater than/equal to 190 Very High
Total Cholesterol
less than 200 Desirable
200-239 Borderline High
greater than/equal to 240 High
HDL Cholesterol
less than 40 Low
greater than/equal to 60 High
Triglycerides
less than 150 mg/dL Normal
150-199 mg/dL Borderline High
200-499 mg/dL High
greater than/equal to 500 mg/dL Very High

*Source: National Institutes of Health NIH Publication No. 01-3670

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