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Tips on Lowering Your Cholesterol

Research shows that half of American adults have unhealthy cholesterol levels. High cholesterol has no symptoms, so the only way to know your “score” is through a blood test called a lipid profile:

• Total cholesterol, the fat-like substance which is an important component of cell membranes, should be under 200 mg/dl.

• LDL or “bad” cholesterol transports cholesterol throughout your body, depositing it along the walls of your arteries; it should be under 100 mg/dl.

• HDL or “good” cholesterol picks up excess cholesterol and transports it back to your liver; it should be 60 mg/dl or above.

• Triglycerides, another type of fat in the blood, should be below 150 mg/dl. Optimal “scores” vary by gender, age, and health risk factors.

Consult your healthcare provider for specific guidance, as medications may be necessary. Meanwhile, the following lifestyle changes are the first line of defense against high cholesterol.

• Maintain a healthy weight: Losing even 5 to 10 pounds of excess weight can improve cholesterol levels.

• Stop smoking: Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol and increases the clotting tendencies of blood. Just 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your blood pressure decreases, and cholesterol improvement soon follows.

• Exercise regularly: Talk with your healthcare provider about your best options. Aerobic activity is most beneficial. If a long workout isn’t possible, short sessions throughout the day are still helpful.

• Choose healthier fats: Aim for no more than 10% of your daily calories from saturated fats and try to completely avoid trans fat which raises LDL cholesterol and lowers HDL. These fats are often found in commercial bakery products and margarines. Monosaturated fats, such as those found in olive, peanut, and canola oils, are healthier choices. Almonds, walnuts and fish are good sources of healthy fats.

• Select whole grain products: Brown rice, oatmeal, oat bran, whole grain breads and pasta contain nutrients which promote heart health.

• Limit dietary cholesterol, much of which is found in egg yolks, whole milk products, and organ meats. Use lower fat milk products and lean cuts of meat instead.