Cholesterol gets a bad rap. In fact, our bodies need some cholesterol. The waxy substance travels through the blood, helping in the production of some hormones and Vitamin D.
But our bodies take care of this all on their own, producing all the cholesterol we need on a day-to-day basis. It is the dietary choices we make every day that contribute to our elevated cholesterol levels.
When cholesterol gets too high, we're in trouble. Cholesterol, along with other substances, can build up in the arteries, creating the plaques that cause heart disease.
So what is too high when it comes to cholesterol? There are a few important markers your doctor will test for:
- Total cholesterol
- LDL or "bad" cholesterol -- this type contributes the most to buildup in the arteries
- HDL or "good" cholesterol -- this type actually helps keep arteries clear
- Triglycerides -- an additional type of fat in the blood
A healthy total cholesterol is under 200 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). LDL cholesterol should be under 100 mg/dL, and ideal HDL is above 60 mg/dL. Optimal triglyceride levels are below 150 mg/dL.
Because people with high cholesterol are at a greater risk of heart disease, it's important to take steps to keep levels in the healthy range. If cholesterol levels are high, some people opt for cholesterol-lowering mediations or supplements. Others make lifestyle changes; losing weight, exercising and eating a healthy diet can all lower cholesterol.
There are certain heart-healthy foods that are especially worth incorporating. Click through the slideshow below to see 12 foods that could lower your cholesterol. Then tell us in the comments what heart-healthy diet changes you've made.
For more on cholesterol, click here.