Heart made from pomegranate seeds: cholesterol educationSeptember is National Cholesterol Education Month. Did you know that excess weight and obesity can increase your cholesterol? It is essential to understand what cholesterol is and how it works because too much of it can put you at risk for heart disease and stroke, the two leading causes of death in the U.S.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 38% of American adults have high cholesterol. Instead of letting this statistic scare you, use the following information to get informed and take control of your health.

What is Cholesterol?

Blood cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by your liver. Your body makes all that it needs to build cells, make hormones, and digest food.

However, there is also a form of cholesterol called dietary cholesterol. This type is found in foods like meat, seafood, dairy, and eggs. We don’t necessarily need this extra dietary cholesterol, which is why limiting cholesterol in your diet is vital for good health.

Types of Cholesterol

Here are a few key terms and types of cholesterol you should know about:

  • LDL – Also known as the “bad” cholesterol. Too much LDL in your blood can put you at risk for heart disease and other severe conditions.
  • HDL – Also known as the “good” cholesterol. This type absorbs excess cholesterol and carries it back to the liver where it gets flushed from your body. High levels of HDL can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Triglycerides – This is the most common type of fat (lipid) found in the body. When you consume more calories than you need, those calories convert to triglycerides stored in fat cells.

Too much cholesterol can create a fatty build-up in your arteries and eventually narrow them. This build-up is dangerous to your heart health.

Knowing Your Risk

How do you know if your cholesterol is high? Here is a breakdown of ideal cholesterol levels in a healthy adult so you can see where yours fit in.

Ideal Levels:

  • Total cholesterol: less than 170 mg/dl
  • LDL (“bad”) cholesterol: less than 110 mg/dl
  • HDL (“good”) cholesterol: 35 mg/dl or higher
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dl

It is essential that you check your cholesterol levels regularly, especially if you have other health conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, or a history of smoking. A doctor can do a simple blood test that will measure each of these levels for you.

Weight and Cholesterol:

Excess weight and obesity can raise your cholesterol by changing your lipid panel, or the beak down of fats in your body. Typically, weight gain increases LDL in your body and reduces HDL.

What Can You Do?

Here are some tips for managing high cholesterol and improving your overall health:

  • Get your cholesterol checked regularly and work with a healthcare provider about what you can do to lower your levels.
  • Eat more foods that are lower in fat and higher in fiber, such as healthy whole-grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. You can talk to a healthcare provider about weight management if you struggle with this. A helpful resource is OAC’s Obesity Care Provider Locator that lets you search for providers trained in weight management.
  • Get regular physical activity. Guidelines recommend at least 160 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 90 minutes of high-intensity exercise each week.
  • Quit smoking or don’t start.

For more information about cholesterol, visit the CDC website.