Cholesterol is another food ingredient that gets more than its fair share of bad press. Biochemically, cholesterol is a steroid-based molecule related to fat. Despite what you sometimes hear, cholesterol is important in small amounts for good health. It is a major structural component of many body tissues, including the cardiovascular and nervous systems. It’s also
used in the synthesis of many of the sex and adrenal hormones, as well as some digestive enzymes.
There are two primary forms of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). From a health point of view, your goal is to keep HDL levels high and LDL levels low. LDLs tend to be sticky in texture and attach more easily to arterial walls, causing blockages. If the blocked arteries happen to be located in the heart, the end result could
be a heart attack.
Blocked arteries in limbs can lead to cell death, gangrene, and eventually amputation. Evolution has decided that HDLs should use to combat destructive LDLs. HDLs attach to and carry away LDLs before they have a chance to build upon arterial walls.
HDLs also carry extra cholesterol to the liver, and converted to bile salts and excreted. Most readers are probably aware of the risk factors that negatively impact cholesterol. While you have little control over genetics, such lifestyle factors as smoking, drinking, nutrition, and exercise can be controlled. Quit smoking (or never start), reduce your alcohol consumption, cut down on saturated and trans fat, and start exercising – including cardio (hopefully you’re already way ahead on this one!).
Cholesterol Blood Tests
Even if you’re following this advice it’s a good idea to have regular blood tests performed to check your cholesterol levels. Now you probably think that a blood test for cholesterol would simply tell you how much cholesterol is in your body. Well, it does, but doctors actually use several measurements to deduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
The three measurements are:
- LDL cholesterol
- HDL cholesterol
- 226 Total cholesterol
The first thing I should tell you is that total cholesterol doesn’t simply mean LDL cholesterol plus HDL cholesterol. There are additional types of cholesterol, but I really don’t need to discuss them here. Cholesterol is measured as milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood. Medical types
have abbreviated it as mg/dL. In some cases only your total cholesterol will be measured, other times you will get results for all three. With regards to total cholesterol, here is a general guide:
|Less than 200 mg/dL||Optimal|
|200–239 mg/dL||Borderline high|
|240 mg/dL and above||Too high|
The values for HDL cholesterol are as follows:
|Less than 40 mg/dL||Too low|
|More than 40 mg/dL||Desirable|
|Above 60 mg/dL||Optimal|
If you are 20 years or older and have no signs of heart disease, the values for LDL cholesterol
are as follows:
|Less than 100 mg/dL||Optimal|
|100–129 mg/dL||Near optimal|
|130–159 mg/dL||Borderline high|
|190 mg/dL and above||Extremely high|
Your doctor may give you these cholesterol values as a ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol. This is calculated by dividing your total cholesterol by your HDL cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the ratio should be below 5:1. A ratio of 3.5:1 is considered optimal. So, you should not simply keep track of your cholesterol levels, but you should also do everything in your power to keep your LDL levels low and HDL levels high.