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Getting your cholesterol in check

There are 2 types of cholesterol - good and bad. It's so important to keep it at healthy levels because high blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. If you think you may be at risk, are interested in preventing or have already been diagnosed with high blood cholesterol, here is some step-by-step information on how to manage it successfully.

 

What is blood cholesterol?

Cholesterol is one of the fats in your blood. Your body uses it to make cell membranes, vitamin D and hormones. There are two main types of cholesterol:

  1. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is often called the bad cholesterol because high levels in the blood promotes the buildup of plaque in the artery walls.
  2. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is called the good cholesterol because it helps carry LDL-cholesterol away from the artery walls.

Triglycerides are not a type of cholesterol. However, they are a type of fat that is found in the blood. High triglycerides are associated with excess weight, excess alcohol consumption and diabetes. Your triglyceride level is usually measured at the same time as your blood cholesterol.

 

How does cholesterol affect heart disease and stroke?

High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. By lowering your cholesterol, you can dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. High cholesterol can lead to a buildup of plaque in the artery walls, narrowing your arteries, a condition called atherosclerosis. It can make it more difficult for blood to flow through your heart and body, putting you at increased risk of circulatory problems, heart disease and stroke.

 

What are the 9 ways I can get my cholesterol in check?

1. Test your cholesterol. Ask your doctor to check it if:

  • You are male and over 40.
  • You are female and over 50 or post-menopausal.
  • You have heart disease, stroke, diabetes or high blood pressure.
  • Your waist measures more than 102 centimetres (40 inches) for men or 88 centimetres (35 inches) for women. For persons of Chinese or South Asian descent, if your waist measures more than 90 centimetres (35 inches) for men or 80 centimetres (32 inches) for women.
  • You have a family history of heart disease or stroke.

2. Reduce your fat intake to 20 to 35% of your daily calories.

3. Choose healthy fats such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, found mainly in vegetable oils, nuts and fish.

4. Limit your intake of saturated fat to less than 7% of your daily calories. Saturated fat is found mainly in red meat and high-fat dairy products.

5. Avoid trans fats often found in foods made with shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, including hard margarines, fast foods and many pre-made foods. Trans fats raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol.

6. Use Canada's Food Guide to plan a healthier diet. Eat more vegetables, fruit and whole grains.

7. Use lower-fat cooking methods such as baking, broiling or steaming. Avoid fried food.

8. Be smoke-free. Smoking increases LDL (bad) blood cholesterol.

9. Get physically active. Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity a week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Being active on a regular basis can improve good cholesterol levels.

10. Achieve and maintain your weight at a healthy BMI. Know your waist circumference.

 

 

Last reviewed August 2012.

Last modified August 2012.