Most people know that cholesterol is a factor in risk for heart disease and stroke. But did you know that our bodies need cholesterol, and that most of what we need is produced and used by our liver? Our bodies store the extra cholesterol that we get from foods.

Did you know that eating a healthy diet – with lower intake of bad fats and more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and increasing physical activity can improve cholesterol levels? And not only your total cholesterol level, but the important ratio of good (HDL) to bad (LDL) cholesterol?

Having a high cholesterol level has no symptoms: a simple blood test is needed to detect it. Ask your health care provider about getting screened and what steps you can take if your cholesterol levels are not in the healthy range.

Know Your Fats

Saturated fat and artificial trans fats are the major food sources that raise blood cholesterol. Saturated fat is the main dietary cause, because most of us eat too much of it. Saturated fat is found mostly in animal products such as meats, whole milk, eggs and full-fat cheese. Some plants that also contain saturated fat include coconut and palm, including their oils. Saturated fats raise bad (LDL) cholesterol levels in the blood.

Artificial trans fat, also called partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, is formed when liquid oil is chemically treated to become more solid, as in many types of margarine. Trans fat is often used in baked and fried foods and packaged mixes. Many studies show that trans fats raise cholesterol levels even more than saturated fats. Trans fats tend to raise bad (LDL) and lower good (HDL) cholesterol, a double dose of trouble as the risk for heart disease is much much greater.

The good news about trans fat is that Boston restaurants and other food establishments are no longer allowed to use ingredients with artificial trans fat in foods they prepare and serve (unless it’s served in the original package with a Nutrition Facts label). And food manufacturers have taken trans fat mostly or totally out of foods you buy at the supermarket. So you’re probably eating much less trans fat than you used to, without even trying.

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are unsaturated fats sources that appear to not raise blood cholesterol. These are the good fats. They’re found mainly in many fish, nuts, seeds and oils from plants. A diet that contains both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats may help lower your blood cholesterol level and studies suggest they might even help lower LDL.

Information and Help
Follow these steps to improve your cholesterol levels:

o Know your numbers. During September Cholesterol Awareness Month, take time to visit your doctor and ask for a cholesterol test. Ask your doctor what you can do to improve your good cholesterol and lower your bad cholesterol.

o Select low-fat or reduced-fat meats, such as poultry or fish, and low-fat milk and dairy products.

o Get in the habit of reading Nutrition Facts labels when you’re food shopping. Select foods that contain total and saturated fat levels that are less than 20% Daily Value.

o Look for products that say 0g (zero grams) trans fat. Also read the ingredients list on the label. Nutrition Facts label can say «0g» as long as there is less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving. But if it’s really zero grams, there will be no «partially hydrogenated vegetable oil» in th

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