Facts on Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is part of your body’s cells and helps you make vitamin D and certain hormones. However, having high cholesterol levels puts you at higher risk for heart disease. Read on to learn more about cholesterol and how to keep your cholesterol levels healthy.

Where does cholesterol come from?

Cholesterol is made in your liver

Your body naturally makes cholesterol in your liver. This is called “blood cholesterol” because it is the cholesterol that circulates in your blood.

Cholesterol comes from food

Cholesterol comes from the foods you eat.   This is called “dietary cholesterol” and is from animal sources like meat, poultry, milk products, eggs and shellfish. Dietary cholesterol eventually circulates in your blood after your body digests a meal and is stored in your liver. 

What are the two types of cholesterol?

  • LDL cholesterol, known as “bad cholesterol,” can lead to plaque build up in your arteries. This can increase the risk of heart disease.
  • HDL cholesterol, known as “good cholesterol,” helps protect your arteries by lowering the amount of plaque that is in your bloodstream.

To help lower your risk of heart disease, the goal is to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol if it is too high and raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol if it is too low.

How do you get high blood cholesterol?

The following factors may cause high cholesterol:

  • A family history of high cholesterol
  • A high fat diet, including saturated and trans fats
  • An under active thyroid gland
  • Long term kidney problems
  • High alcohol intake

Do you get high cholesterol from eating too much cholesterol?

No. The amount of cholesterol you get from food usually has little impact on your blood cholesterol if you are a healthy person.  People who have a family history of high blood cholesterol should try to limit the amount of dietary cholesterol they eat.

How much cholesterol should I eat?

  • If you do not have heart disease, aim to eat less than 300 milligrams (mg) of dietary cholesterol per day.
  • If you have heart disease or are at risk of heart disease, eat less than 200 mg of dietary cholesterol per day.

Remember, cholesterol is only found in animal foods. Foods that have higher amounts of cholesterol include egg yolks, liver, caviar and shrimp. Veal, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, beef and dairy products also have cholesterol.

Most people do not need to count milligrams of cholesterol each day. You can limit foods that are very high in cholesterol by reading the Nutrition Facts table on packaged foods.

What can I do to keep my cholesterol level in check?

  • Choose foods that are lower in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol, like lean cuts of meat, skinless poultry, fish and legumes. Try these delicious Mango Chicken Wraps for a tasty lunch or this Black Bean Couscous for a satisfying salad.
  • Increase your intake of foods that contain unsaturated fat, like canola or olive oil, salmon and trout and nuts and seeds. Try this Orange Glazed Salmon.
  • Make sure you are getting enough fibre. Choose whole grain breads and cereals, oats, oat bran, psyllium, beans, peas, lentils, eggplant, okra and vegetables and fruit with the peels.

A healthy lifestyle can also help you achieve healthy blood cholesterol levels:

  • Manage your weight. Losing any excess weight, especially around your waist, helps increase your HDL cholesterol and lower your LDL cholesterol. If you are thinking of joining a weight loss program, consider a checklist of questions to help you get started with a program that’s right for you.
  • Be physically active. Regular physical activity improves HDL cholesterol. Adding any amount of physical activity helps. Try these helpful suggestions to get into the swing of being active.
  • Avoid smoking. Studies have shown that avoiding smoking can increase HDL cholesterol.  Look for tips to try and stop smoking from Health Canada.

Bottom Line

Eating well by choosing foods low in saturated fat, trans fats and cholesterol, keeping active and managing your weight are the best ways to help you keep your blood cholesterol levels in check. Talk to your doctor about your LDL and HDL blood cholesterol and take a step forward in preventing heart disease.

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Last Update – October 9, 2016

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