High Cholesterol LevelsBlood cholesterol is usually measured by the total blood cholesterol and is measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). The American Heart Association suggests the following guidelines for for total cholesterol and what are high cholesterol levels:
|Category||Total Cholesterol||HDL Cholesterol Levels|
|Desirable||Less than 200 mg/dL||40 mg/dL or higher|
|Borderline high risk for cardiovascular problems||200-239 mg/dL||40 mg/dL or higher|
|High risk for cardiovascular problems||240 mg/dL and over||40 mg/dL or higher|
If your total cholesterol levels are less than 200 mg/dL, your chance of a heart attack is relatively low unless you have other risk factors. More than half of the adult population has blood cholesterol levels higher than the "desirable" range. People whose cholesterol level is from 200 to 239 mg/dL are borderline high risk. About a third of American adults are in this (borderline) group. If your total cholesterol is over 240 mg/dL your risk of coronary heart disease is high. It's even higher if you have other risk factors for heart disease. In general, people who have a total cholesterol level of 240 mg/dL have twice the risk of coronary heart disease as people whose cholesterol level is 200 mg/dL.
However knowing the total blood cholesterol level is only the first step in assessing your risk from heart disease. An important second step is knowing your HDL and/or your LDL levels ("good" and "bad" cholesterol levels).
HDL and LDL cholesterol levelsYou should also know your levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL, also known as the "good cholesterol") and low density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad cholesterol").
In the average man, HDL cholesterol levels range from 40 to 50 mg/dL. In the average woman, they range from 50 to 60 mg/dL. HDL cholesterol that's less than 40 mg/dL is low. Low HDL cholesterol puts you at high risk for heart disease. Your LDL cholesterol will fall into one of these categories:
LDL Cholesterol Levels
Less than 100 mg/dL Optimal
100 to 129 mg/dL Near Optimal/ Above Optimal
130 to 159 mg/dL Borderline High
160 to 189 mg/dL High
190 mg/dL and above Very High
Cholesterol ratioSome physicians will use the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol rather than the total blood cholesterol. The ratio is obtained by dividing the HDL cholesterol level into the total cholesterol. For example, if a person has a total cholesterol of 200 mg/dL and an HDL cholesterol level of 50 mg/dL, the ratio would be stated as 4:1. The goal is to keep the ratio below 5:1; the optimum ratio is 3.5:1.
Sources of CholesterolAlthough cholesterol is in food the average person makes about 75% of cholesterol in the liver and about 25% is absorbed through food. Saturated fat and trans fat in your diet have a large effect on blood cholesterol levels although it is still important to limit the amount of cholesterol you eat. Dietary cholesterol restriction can be justifiable even when other life-style and dietary measures to minimize blood cholesterol are undertaken. [Ref: Arch Intern Med. 1990 Jan;150(1):137-41. Effects of exercise, dietary cholesterol, and dietary fat on blood lipids. Johnson C, Greenland P.]
We have sorted our nutrition database by Foods high in cholesterol so you can easily see how much cholesterol is contained in different foods. We also have a list of low cholesterol foods. You can also search through our database using the search box below or browse the cholesterol content by food category.
cholesterol content by food category:
|3D picture of Cholesterol|
Cholesterol FunctionCholesterol is manufactured in the liver. It is required for the normal biological function of the body which includes the production of hormones, bile acid, and vitamin D.
Good and Bad CholesterolCholesterol and other fats can't dissolve in the blood. They have to be transported to and from the cells by special carriers called lipoproteins. There are two important types; low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, known as bad cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein or HDL, known as good cholesterol. Although HDL and LDL Cholesterol are referred to as good cholesterol and bad cholesterol they are not a form of cholesterol but carriers or transporters of cholesterol around the body. It is now recognised that the significance of any particular cholesterol level cannot be assessed without taking into account the ratio between good and bad cholesterol
HDL Cholesterol - Good CholesterolHigh density lipoprotein or HDL is often referred to as good cholesterol because a high level of it seems to correlate with a lower risk of heart attack. Between one third and one quarter of blood cholesterol is transported by HDL away from the arteries and back to the liver.
LDL Cholesterol - Bad CholesterolLow density lipoprotein or LDL is often referred to as bad cholesterol and may contribute to diseases of the arteries (cardiovascular disease). The proporition of LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol is important to determine the risk cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks, strokes and atherosclerosis (atherosclerosis is the formation of plaque, a thick hard deposit that can clog arteries.)
Diet and CholesterolCholesterol is found in animal products such as dairy products (cheese, butter), meat (beef), and poultry (chicken). Items particularly high in cholesterol are egg yolks and organ meats (liver, kidney and brain). Fish generally contains less cholesterol than other meats, but some shellfish (lobster) are high in cholesterol. Food from plants like fruits (apples, oranges, bananas), vegetables (broccoli, tomato), grains (brown rice) and nuts (cashews) do not contain cholesterol. Although fat content can affect the amount of cholesterol produced by the body it is not a good measure of cholesterol content in food. For example, liver and other organ meats are low in fat, but very high in cholesterol.
Saturated fat and cholesterolThe the largest dietary cause of high LDL levels ("bad cholesterol") is saturated fat [Ref: Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2006 Nov;8(6):466-71. Dietary fats, fatty acids, and their effects on lipoproteins. Denke MA.]. Saturated fats are found in animal products such as butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, cream, and fatty meats. They are also found in some vegetable oils such as coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oils. (See the saturated fat section for more information.)
Trans fatty acids and cholesterolTrans fatty acids form when vegetable oil hardens (a process called hydrogenation) and can raise LDL levels. They can also lower HDL levels ("good cholesterol") [Ref: N Engl J Med. 1990 Aug 16;323(7):439-45. Effect of dietary trans fatty acids on high-density and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in healthy subjects. Mensink RP, Katan MB.]. Trans fatty acids are found in fried foods, commercial baked goods (donuts, cookies, crackers), processed foods, and margarines. (See the trans fatty acids section for more information.)
Unsaturated Fats and CholesterolUnsaturated fats help to lower blood cholesterol if used in place of saturated fats. Although generally they do contain a lot of calories and so should still be limited. There are two types: mono-unsaturated (such as olive oil and canola oil) and polyunsaturated (such as safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil and soybean oil).
How to lower cholesterol Limit total fat intake to 25% to 35% of total daily calories. We have a large selection of low fat recipes and 101 ways to reduce fat.
Eat a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet. Less than 7% of daily calories should be from saturated fat, not more than 10% should be from polyunsaturated fat, and not more than 20% from monounsaturated fat.
Eat less than 200 milligrams (mg) of dietary cholesterol per day.
Eat more fiber.
Increase physical activity. Staying physically active helps maintain a desirable cholesterol level. [Ref: Med Pregl. 2006 Jan-Feb;59(1-2):57-62. The correlation between lifestyle and lipid profile Mirjanic-Azaric B, Deric M, Vrhovac M, Sukalo D.]
The recommendations for children's diets are similar to those of adults. It is very important that children get enough calories to support their growth and activity level, and that the child achieve and maintain a desirable body weight.
Even with a low risk, it's still smart to eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol, and also get plenty of physical activity. Have your cholesterol levels measured every five years — or more often if you're a man over 45 or a woman over 55.
How to Raise Your HDL Cholesterol LevelSmoking, being overweight and being sedentary can all result in lower HDL cholesterol. If you have low HDL cholesterol, you can help raise it by:
Not smoking or Stop smoking. If you smoke, giving up tobacco will result in an increase in HDL levels.
Losing weight (or maintain a healthy weight). Obesity not only increases LDL cholesterol, but also reduces HDL cholesterol. If you are overweight, reducing your weight should increase your HDL levels.
Being physically active for at least 30-60 minutes a day on most or all days of the week. Regular aerobic exercise (such as walking, jogging or bike riding, that raises your heart rate for 20 - 30 minutes at a time) increases the HDL levels.
People with high blood triglycerides usually have lower HDL cholesterol and a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Progesterone, anabolic steroids and male sex hormones (testosterone) also lower HDL cholesterol levels. Female sex hormones raise HDL cholesterol levels.
Cut out the trans fatty acids. Trans fatty acids are currently present in many of your favorite prepared foods - anything in which the nutrition label reads "partially hydrogenated vegetable oils". But trans fatty acids not only increase LDL cholesterol levels, they also reduce HDL cholesterol levels.
Increase the monounsaturated fats in your diet. Monounsaturated fats such as canola oil, avocado oil, or olive oil and in the fats found in peanut butter can increase HDL cholesterol levels without increasing the total cholesterol.
Add soluble fiber to your diet. Soluble fibers are found in oats, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and result in both a reduction in LDL cholesterol and an increase HDL cholesterol. For best results, at least two servings a day should be used.
Related Cholesterol PagesTotal fat content in food
Saturated fat content in food
Trans fat content in food
Mono-unsaturated fat content in food
Poly-unsaturated fat content in food
Cholesterol content in food
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