Health Matters – Cholesterol: What You Need to Know

?Cholesterol is a group of lipids known as sterols: a soft waxy substance made in the body for a variety of purposes and also found in animal-derived foods.?

from Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies: 9th edition by Frances Sizer and Eleanor Whitney

The body needs cholesterol for building cell membranes and in the production of vitamin D and some hormones. Cholesterol is a problem when it becomes too high, as it can deposit on the walls of the arteries and cause them to narrow or block with plaque. High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease.

According to The Heart and Stroke Foundation, if you are a male over the age of 40 or a female over the age of 50 and/or post-menopausal you should have your cholesterol checked. As well, if you have heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or have suffered a stroke, you should monitor your cholesterol, as these conditions could be further complicated by high cholesterol.

If you do have high cholesterol there are things you can do to lower it. Reducing your fat intake to 20 ? 35 per cent of your daily calories will help you lose weight, which will help to bring your cholesterol level down. A good way to reduce your fat intake is to eat less red meat and high-fat dairy products.

Read labels and avoid foods containing trans fats, such as shortening, hard margarines, and many processed foods. Many food manufactures are reducing or eliminating trans fats from their products, as they raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. Also become aware of what foods contain cholesterol and limit these items.

Pay special attention to how your food is prepared. Frying food is less healthy than baking or broiling. Keeping physically active can help lower your LDL levels and raise your HDL levels. A simple task like walking briskly for 30 minutes a day can significantly impact your cholesterol level as well as improving your general health and sense of well-being.

Strive to follow Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating when planning your family’s meals. A good choice is foods high in fibre, as these help to flush cholesterol from the blood. High-fibre foods include whole-grain cereals as well as fruits and vegetables. Try to consume several servings daily.

There are some things you cannot control. For example, you cannot do anything if you have inherited a gene that determines how your body handles cholesterol. Also, you can’t stop yourself from aging. As we age, our cholesterol levels rise; particularly LDL, which is the bad cholesterol.

It is possible that after trying everything your cholesterol will remain high, and at this point you may need to go on medication. Drugs to lower cholesterol are called statins. Statins lower the amount of cholesterol manufactured by your liver. Your doctor will be able to advise you on which is best for your particular situation.