According to the American Heart Association, blood cholesterol is one of the most controllable risk factors for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. The higher your total cholesterol, the higher your risk of heart problems. Following a diet low in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol will reduce your risk for these conditions. Exercise can also help keep your cholesterol at a normal level, but check with your health care provider before beginning an exercise program.
There are two types of cholesterol in your blood: high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, and low-density lipoprotein, or LDL. LDL is referred to as “bad” cholesterol because it sticks to the walls of your arteries, creating blockages which can lead to heart attack or stroke. You should keep your LDL level under 100 mg/dL. HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol, because it removes LDL cholesterol from your bloodstream and the walls of blood vessels. HDL may also protect against heart attack and stroke. You want your HDL level to be above 40 mg/dL.
According to the USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should consume less than 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol per day to keep your blood cholesterol levels in check. On average, men consume 350 milligrams per day and women consume 240 milligrams a day. Eating high amounts of cholesterol may increase your LDL levels, although limiting your intake of saturated and trans fats can minimize this effect. The guidelines state that eating a diet high in saturated and trans fats has a more negative impact on your LDL level than a diet high in cholesterol.
Cholesterol is found only in animal products; therefore fruits, vegetables and whole grains are cholesterol-free. Choose a variety of these foods to reduce the amount of cholesterol you eat every day. According to the American Dietetic Association, you should eat 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables every day. The best choices are colorful red, green, orange, yellow and purple fruits and vegetables.
Whole grains, such as whole-wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, oatmeal and whole-grain cereals will also help you maintain a healthy cholesterol level. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products and lean meats or poultry without skin to reduce the amount of fats and cholesterol you eat. The AHA also recommends eating fish twice a week.
The AHA recommends limiting high-fat meats and dairy foods as well as cutting back on, or better yet, completely avoiding foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to maintain a healthy cholesterol level. Check labels to determine if the foods you are eating contain these types of fats. The Dietary Guidelines state that eating one egg per day does not increase cholesterol or increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in healthy people; however, your goal should be to eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day.
- American Heart Association: Why Cholesterol Matters
- American Heart Association: About Cholesterol
- 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Chapter 3: Foods and Food Components to Reduce
- American Dietetic Association: Healthy Eating for Men
- American Dietetic Association: Healthy Eating for Women
- American Heart Association: Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations
- Healthy food image by Bartlomiej Nowak from Fotolia.com
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.