Explaining Fat and Cholesterol

Perhaps you know your cholesterol numbers, but what do they mean? And how can you lower your cholesterol, if necessary?

When a doctor checks your cholesterol, the test measures the total amount of cholesterol in your blood, as well as the HDL or "good" cholesterol, which cleanses arteries and the LDL or "bad," cholesterol which builds up and clogs arteries. The doctor then looks at all three readings, as well as the ratio of total cholesterol to "good" cholesterol. A ratio of less than four is considered best.

Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise three or four times a week may be all you need to raise the level of HDL ("good cholesterol") in your bloodstream. Following a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet can usually reduce your total blood cholesterol by about 10-15%. And maintaining a healthy weight over the years can help control your blood cholesterol. A recent study at Wright State University's School of Medicine in Ohio confirmed that the "normal" gain in body fat that occurs as most people get older is associated with increased total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

The types of fat you consume also affect cholesterol levels. Saturated fat raises the harmful LDL cholesterol in your blood. It is found in butter, whole milk, red meat, palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, and hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils.

Consuming cholesterol-rich food raises the level of cholesterol in your blood.

You can reduce consumption of cholesterol by limiting the amount of eggs, meat, butter, and whole milk. Instead, switch to unsaturated fats, like the ones listed below. Polyunsaturates lower your total blood cholesterol - both LDL and HDL (corn oil, sunflower seed oil, safflower oil). Monounsaturates, on the other hand, lower LDL levels but leave the beneficial HDL intact.

Sources of monounsaturated fat include:

  • Avocado
  • Canola oil
  • Nuts like almonds, cashews, pecans, and peanuts
  • Olive oil and olives
  • Peanut butter and peanut oil
  • Sesame seeds

Sources of polyunsaturated fats are:

  • Corn oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Walnuts
  • Pumpkin or sunflower seeds

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