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Cholesterol is a fat-like substance made by the liver. It is also in foods that come from animals, like meat, dairy, eggs, and cheese. The body needs some cholesterol to make cell membranes, hormones, and vitamin D. Having too much cholesterol in your blood can cause your blood vessels to become blocked and lead to health problems, like heart attack and stroke.
Cholesterol moves through your body as particles called lipoproteins. The two main kinds of lipoprotein particles are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
High LDL (bad) cholesterol and low HDL (good) cholesterol along with high triglycerides increase your risk for heart attack and stroke. Lifestyle changes including physical activity, healthy eating, and not smoking can help you manage your cholesterol. Some people may also need cholesterol-lowering medicines.
A lab test can measure the level of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. This is sometimes called a lipid profile or lipid panel.
In general, aim for these numbers:
Exercise will lower total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL (bad cholesterol) while increasing HDL (good cholesterol). Try to be active for at least 30 minutes a day. Aim for 60 minutes per day if you are trying to lose weight. Choose an activity that you enjoy and can do for 10 minutes several times per day. For example, take three 10-minute brisk walks per day to add up to 30 minutes.
Healthy diet changes can help you manage cholesterol levels. These include:
|Food group||Foods to eat||Foods to avoid or limit|
|Protein||Lean meats such as turkey, chicken, pork, and lean cuts of beef
Soy or tofu
|High-fat cuts of beef or pork
Fried meats or fish
Hot dogs, cold cuts, lunch meat
Whole grain bread, cereal, or pasta
Air popped popcorn
White or processed bread, cereal, or pasta
Popcorn cooked in butter
Fried or high-fat baked goods
|Vegetables||Fresh, frozen, or low-sodium or rinsed canned vegetables||Fried vegetables
Vegetables with added fat such as butter, cream, or gravy
|Fruit||Canned, fresh, dried, or frozen fruit (without added sugar)||Desserts or fried foods with fruit filling
Fruits with added fat or sugar
|Fats||Canola, corn, or olive oil
Vegetable oil spreads Low-fat mayonnaise
Low-fat salad dressing
|Butter, lard, shortening, or margarine
|Dairy||Skim or 1% milk
Low-fat frozen yogurt
|Whole fat milk
Whole fat cheese
Whole fat yogurt
Cream or half and half
To help lower your risk for heart disease and stroke, eat a healthy diet including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit foods and drinks with added sugars, saturated fat, or trans fat. Watch the salt in your diet and try to keep sodium to less than 2300 milligrams (mg) per day.
Reviewed: September 2022