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Understanding cholesterol

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What is cholesterol and why is it a factor in heart disease?

Cholesterol is a fat-like nutrient used by the body to help make hormones and build cell walls. The body makes all the cholesterol it needs to function properly.

Cholesterol is also found in many of the foods we eat, such as meat and dairy products. When there is too much cholesterol in the blood stream, it can become trapped in the walls of the arteries that lead to the heart (coronary arteries) and build up over time. This build-up is called plaque.

When plaque clogs the coronary arteries, not enough blood flows to the heart. The heart muscle does not get the nutrients and oxygen it needs and part of it may die. The result is chest pain (angina), a heart attack or sudden death.

How much cholesterol is safe to have in the blood?

Most experts recommend a total cholesterol level of less than 200 or below as desirable. Borderline high risk for heart disease is noted at levels between 200 mg. and 239 mg. Individuals with levels of 240 mg./dl. or higher are considered at high risk.

Is there "good" and "bad" cholesterol?

Yes. There are cholesterol carriers, called lipoproteins, that transport cholesterol through the blood. The "good" type of lipoprotein is called HDL (high-density lipoprotein). HDL transports cholesterol away from the coronary arteries. So, the higher your HDL level, the more protection you have against heart disease. The average man has an HDL-cholesterol of 40-50 mg./dl; the average woman, 50-60. The American Heart Association recommends that your HDL level be at least 40 mg./dl. or higher.

LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is the "bad" type that is associated with heart disease. LDL sticks to the walls of the coronary arteries and forms plaque which can clog these arteries and lead to a heart attack. So, the higher your LDL level, the greater your risk of developing heart disease.

LDL Cholesterol Level Category
Less than 100 mg/dL Optimal
100 to 129 mg/dL Near or above optimal
130 to 159 mg/dL Borderline high
160 to 189 mg/dL High
190 mg/dL and above Very high

How can blood cholesterol be controlled?

You can control your blood cholesterol level by reducing the total amount of fat in your diet, as well as the amount of saturated fat in your diet. If you are overweight, losing weight will usually improve your blood cholesterol level. Blood cholesterol reductions can generally be achieved with simple dietary changes. The American Heart Association recommends that for good health, less than 30 percent of our daily calories should come from fat. Of this 30 percent, 10 percent or less should come from saturated sources while another 20 percent should be provided by monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources. Recent studies show that the American diet contains more fat calories than considered heart healthy.

The table below provides a daily "fat budget" showing how many grams of fat you can eat each day if you want to reduce your fat intake to 20 percent, 25 percent or 30 percent of total calories.

Baptist Health La Grange offers services for people with heart disease. For more information, call the hospital's Information Center at (502) 222-3627 or toll-free at 1-888-222-8071.

Caloric Intake 20% Fat 25% Fat 30% Fat
1200 27 33 40
1300 29 36 43
1400 31 39 46
1500 33 42 50
1600 36 44 53
1700 38 47 56
1800 40 50 60
1900 42 53 63
2000 44 56 66
2100 47 58 70
2200 49 61 73
2300 51 64 76
2400 53 67 80
2500 56 72 83
2600 58 75 86