High Cholesterol

Young men's version of this guide
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blood-testThere are a few things that can lead to high cholesterol: what you eat, how physically active you are, and your genetics. You can’t do anything to change your genetics, but you can make positive lifestyle changes that will help to control your LDL cholesterol levels.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance that’s naturally made in your body, by your liver. It’s needed to make hormones and vitamin D. Cholesterol is also used to make a substance, called bile salts, that helps to digest some of the food you eat.

Two types of cholesterol – HDL and LDL: There are two major types of cholesterol that are usually measured in your blood: HDL and LDL. The desirable kind of cholesterol is called: HDL cholesterol. Ideally this number should be as high as possible. LDL cholesterol is the more undesirable type of cholesterol so the goal is to keep this number low. Most people who have high cholesterol have too much LDL. It is this type of high cholesterol that health care providers are concerned about. Usually, when cholesterol is measured, you receive both the sum of your LDL and HDL levels, as well as what each of those levels is separately.

Why do I have high cholesterol?

If you have high cholesterol it means that either your body is making too much of it or you are eating too many foods that are high in saturated fat and/or trans fat. If a person’s body makes too much cholesterol, it causes them to have a higher than normal “cholesterol level”.

What foods and drinks contain cholesterol?

You may have heard to avoid eating foods that are high in cholesterol. Recently, the scientific community has re-evaluated this and the current belief is that dietary cholesterol has minimal, if any, effect on blood cholesterol. However, nutrition facts labels will still report on the amount of cholesterol in a food.

There is saturated fat in animal products that we eat and drink such as milk, butter, meat, poultry, ice cream, and eggs. Trans fats, which are artificially made by food manufacturers, can show up in foods such as french fries, donuts, pie crust, and cookies. Check the nutrition facts label to see if any amount of trans fat is listed and try to avoid foods that contain any if you can. Reading the ingredients for a food and avoiding foods with hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils will also ensure that you are not eating any trans fat.

Do I need cholesterol?

Everyone needs to have some cholesterol in their blood, but having too much LDL can increase the risk of developing heart disease. Keeping your cholesterol levels within the normal range is one way to help prevent later disease.

How can I lower my cholesterol?

If you have high cholesterol you can work towards lowering it by losing weight if you are overweight, exercising, not smoking, and choosing healthy foods and drinks.

  • Read the Nutrition Facts Label on food products you buy to keep the amount of saturated fat and trans fat in your diet low.
  • Choose healthy fats such as olive oil, vegetable oil, nuts, avocado, and margarine.
  • Eat more whole grains such as: whole grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, and oatmeal. Foods with soluble fiber in them grab onto cholesterol in your digestive system and drag it out before it has a chance to get into your blood.
  • Eat more fiber: fruit, veggies, beans and whole grains. You should aim for 25-28 grams of fiber per day.

Girls ages 9-18 should get 30% of their calories each day from fat, but only 7% from saturated fat (about 12.4-14 grams per day).

What if I don’t want to change what I eat?

It can be overwhelming to think about making changes to the way that you’re used to eating. It’s a good idea to start with small changes that are the easiest to make and then go from there. For example, you could start by eating oatmeal for breakfast or by switching from eating meat every day to eating fish twice a week.

Here’s a chart of other things you can swap out to help keep cholesterol levels under control.

Instead of:Eat:
HamburgerVeggie burger
Ice creamFrozen yogurt
2 slices pepperoni pizza1 slice vegetable pizza with a side salad
Mayonnaise on your sandwichHummus on your sandwich
ButterPlant-based spreads such as Benecol®, Smart Balance®, or Olivio®
Creamy salad dressingOil and vinegar based dressing
Cereal with high sugar contentOatmeal or high fiber cereal
Cheese and crackersTrail mix (nuts and raisins)