Hi there! My name is Allie McDonald and I am a Registered Dietitian; I'm thrilled to be the newest Guest Blogger for Walker Methodist. I graduated from the College of Saint Benedict in May 2013, and currently work with seniors in the Minneapolis area. Over the next year or so, you’ll occasionally find blogs from me discussing health and nutrition topics. Enjoy!
As adults age, they hear over and over again different health tips: stay active, get enough sleep, try to keep stress in check, eat right… the list can go on and on. And one of the items often on that list is keeping your cholesterol levels in check. But in order to do that, it’s important to understand what cholesterol is, what is considered “high” levels of cholesterol, how to prevent high cholesterol, and why it matters for older adults.
Don’t get too overwhelmed… In this blog I’ll focus on helping you understand each of these so you can feel more confident in your health.
What is Cholesterol and What is Considered “High Cholesterol”?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that travels through the body in the blood. It is made by the liver, but we also ingest some levels of cholesterol through the diet. While cholesterol is needed in the body for various roles, too much can be a bad thing.
There are two main types of cholesterol in the body: LDL (low density lipoprotein) aka the “bad” cholesterol, and HDL (high density lipoprotein) aka the “good” cholesterol. LDL cholesterol carries cholesterol from the liver to other parts of the body. Too much LDL can cause a build-up of plaque in the arteries, which can block blood flow leading to strokes and heart attacks.
HDL cholesterol does the opposite! It clears cholesterol from parts of the body and brings them back to the liver to be eliminated by the body. This is why it is called “good” cholesterol.
It is recommended to keep total cholesterol levels less than 200mg/dL. A total cholesterol level less than 240mg/dL is considered “high cholesterol.” When someone is told they have “high cholesterol,” it typically means that they need to lower their LDL cholesterol and increase their HDL cholesterol. It is recommended to keep LDL cholesterol less than 100 mg/dL and HDL cholesterol greater than 60 mg/dL.
Why is High Cholesterol Harmful?
As mentioned above, too much cholesterol in the body can lead to a build-up of this fatty substance in the body called atherosclerosis, which can block blood flow. High cholesterol levels along with other risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
What Can We Do to Prevent and Fight High Cholesterol?
First and foremost, following a heart healthy diet is crucial. The most effective way to lower LDL cholesterol is through the diet. Foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol should be limited. Some of these foods include red meats, fried foods, and baked goods. Although egg yolks contain cholesterol, the effect of cholesterol from eggs is much less than cholesterol found in saturated fats. The body does need some cholesterol from food sources, and eggs are an excellent source of protein for the body. It is also important to eat adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables as well as healthy fats. Some examples of healthy fats include: avocados, nuts/seeds, oils, and many types of fish.
Another way to reduce the risk of high cholesterol is to exercise. Physical activity is the most effective way to increase HDL cholesterol, aka the “good” cholesterol. If this makes you roll your eyes, remember: exercise does not have to be strenuous! Simple aerobic exercises such as walking, gardening, and cleaning are all great ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily life and improve your HDL cholesterol levels.
If modifying your diet and increasing physical activity do not help lower your cholesterol, there are various medications designed to help lower cholesterol. But make sure to speak with your doctor before starting any sort of medication.
Why Does Cholesterol Matter?
Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women over the age of 65. As we age, it is extremely important to be aware of our cholesterol levels and make changes to our lifestyle as needed. Small changes in diet and exercise can have a huge effect on improving one’s cholesterol levels. Be sure to get your cholesterol and lipids tested regularly so that you are informed and able to take action.