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Cholesterol Basics

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
March 14, 2022
November 10, 2022

Do you have a new diagnosis of high cholesterol? Have you had elevated cholesterol for years, but never knew exactly what to do to treat it properly? Here we’ll go through the basics of cholesterol - what it is, what it does, where it comes from, and how to control it.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your blood. Did You Know? Around 75% of your cholesterol comes from your liver. The liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs for regular functions. That means that only 25% comes from food!

Why Do We Need Cholesterol?

Cholesterol produces bile, a substance that helps breakdown fats for digestion. Cholesterol also helps to produce important hormones & vitamin D.

Why is High Cholesterol Dangerous?

Too much cholesterol can cause plaque to buildup in your bloodstream. As cholesterol attaches to rough or damaged parts of your artery walls, it can harden you arteries. This slows blood flow, makes your body less responsive to blood pressure rises, and causes high blood pressure.

View the American Heart Association’s animation of cholesterol.

Think of it as construction on a highway. More construction causes traffic to become more congested, thereby slowing down traffic.

What are the types of cholesterol, and how do I improve them?

Removes harmful cholesterol from where it doesn't belong and carries it to the liver, where it is flushed out Collects in the walls of your blood vessels where it can cause blockages and lead to heart disease
The goal is to have HDL above 50mg/dL. Raise your HDL by doing these things:
- Avoid foods high in saturated fats
- Exercise at least 30 minutes 5 times a week
- Stop smoking
- Losing weight
A good goal is to keep LDL under 70 mg/dL. Different underlying conditions and doctors may have varying recommendations. Here’s what helps lower the LDL:
- Avoid foods high in saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, and extra calories
- Exercise
- Stop smoking
- Maintain a healthy weight

See any similarities between lowering LDL and raising HDL? Great! All the same ways to lower the bad cholesterol are the same general strategies to raise the good. Talk with your doctor about what cholesterol range is right for you, and if you need help making some dietary or lifestyle adjustments, or if you just don’t know where to start, talk to your Health Coach or Dietitian!