Cholesterol is a soft, white, waxy, substance that your body needs to be healthy. Cholesterol helps digestion, boost mental performance, build strong bones and muscle, regulate blood sugar levels, and protect against infectious disease. When you have too much in your blood, however, it can build up on the walls of your arteries and cause heart disease and stroke. There are no symptoms of high cholesterol. People who do not have cholesterol levels checked may not know they are at risk.

What you should know

There are two types of cholesterol: good and bad. Too much of one type or not enough of another can put you at risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack, or stroke. A simple blood test can measure levels of both good and bad cholesterol.

  • "Good" Cholesterol - High-density lipoproteins (HDL) absorbs bad cholesterol and carries it back to the liver to remove it from the body. High levels of HDL reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • "Bad" Cholesterol - Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) makes up the majority of the body's cholesterol. High levels of LDL can build up in the arteries and result in heart disease.

Cholesterol can come from your body or from the food you eat. The body produces LDL cholesterol though some people inherit genes that causes them to make too much LDL. Eating saturated fat, trans fats, and food containing cholesterol also increases your LDL level. Saturated fat is found mostly in red meat, especially fatty cuts, chicken or turkey fat, egg yolks, butter, cream, milk, cheeses. Tropical nut oils, cocoa, coconut, and palm also are high in saturated fat. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats do not appear to raise LDL cholesterol.

What you should do to maintain health cholesterol levels

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet - limit foods with trans and saturated fats and cholesterol and salt, and includes low-fat protein sources like lean meat, poultry and fish, and eating vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
  • Maintain a healthy weight for your body type and height. It is based on your BMI (body mass index) and the size of your waist (waist circumference); both are body fat indicators that can lead to health problems.
  • Exercise regularly. Most adults need at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days per week such as walking briskly, mowing the lawn, dancing, swimming or bicycling. more
  • Don't smoke.
  • Have your blood tested for cholesterol levels. For healthy adults cholesterol should be tested every five years. Testing should be done more often if your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or more, if you are a man over age 45 or a woman over age 50, if your HDL (good) cholesterol is less than 40 mg/dL, if you have other risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
  • Talk with your doctor about how to reduce your risk for heart disease.