What to do about your cholesterol
Read the basics on cholesterol and how to lower it.
Maybe you’ve been told your cholesterol is too high. Or maybe you just want to keep it at a healthy level. What level is best for you depends on other health conditions you may have. Always follow your doctor’s orders. Here’s some general information on cholesterol and how to lower it.
Cholesterol is fat in the blood. There are two types of cholesterol in your body:
- LDL is the “bad” type. It can clog arteries and reduce blood flow. Sudden blockages or clots can also cause a heart attack or stroke. Lower numbers are better. For most people, LDL should be 100 or lower.
- HDL is the “good” type. It helps remove “bad” cholesterol from blood vessels. That helps protect against heart disease. Higher numbers are better. For most people, HDL should be 40 or higher.
What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are another type of fat that’s in your blood. When you eat, your body turns extra calories you don't need right away into triglycerides. That’s what gives you energy between meals. But any that’s not used can turn into extra fat in the belly or thighs. A high level of triglycerides may lead to heart disease. Normal triglyceride levels are less than 150 milligrams per deciliter. Over 200 is high. If your triglyceride level is in between, you may need treatment.
Careful eating can help
The best way to lower your cholesterol — and also triglycerides — is to eat healthy. Your doctor may suggest a special diet for you. But there are smart food choices anyone can make. This includes choosing lean meats, as well as foods that are low in fat and high in fiber. Here are some healthy food choices to help lower cholesterol:
- Limit foods that are high in saturated fats. These include meat, butter and full-fat dairy products. Choose (1%) or fat-free (skim) milk, yogurt and cheese.
- Try fish like salmon, mackerel or sardines instead of red meat. Just be sure to bake or steam your fish, don’t fry it.
- Opt for whole-grain breads, bagels and English muffins, as well as rolled oats, quinoa and barley.
- Eat all your vegetables — they’re high in fiber and antioxidants and low in calories. Dark, leafy greens, like kale and spinach are especially good for your heart.
- Enjoy lots of fruits, like berries, grapes, oranges and grapefruits. They’re rich in fiber, as well as vitamin C.
- Replace processed grains and meats with legumes. These are foods like beans, peas and lentils, which contain a lot of fiber, minerals and protein.
- Treat yourself to nuts and avocados, which are rich in healthy fats and fiber.
Regular exercise can also help you lower your cholesterol. A good goal is to get 30 minutes a day. But be sure to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER)
- American Heart Association
The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.