Lower your risk of heart disease by knowing your cholesterol number

Protect your heart and health by checking your cholesterol.

What steps can you take to protect your heart and health? Start by knowing what your cholesterol number is. One in every six Americans has high cholesterol which puts them at increased risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Like high blood pressure, high cholesterol develops with no symptoms or warning signs. Michigan State University Extension says that often people don’t realize they have high cholesterol until they have their blood tested which makes it even more important to know your numbers.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat like substance that circulates in your blood. We all need some cholesterol for good health but the amount of cholesterol we need is made by the liver. We increase our cholesterol when we eat foods that contain cholesterol. An easy way to know which foods contain cholesterol is to remember that the liver makes cholesterol: So animal and animal product sources such as meat, milk and butter. Cholesterol rates rise when we eat more animal foods, when our liver produces more than we need or when our body doesn’t break it down. When you have too much cholesterol, it can build up on the walls of your arteries. This causes a narrowing of your arteries and the risk that this build up (called plaque) can break off and cause blockages or blood clots in the arteries.

According to the Center for Disease Control, these are cholesterol levels you should be aware of:

Desirable Cholesterol Levels

Total cholesterol

Less than 200 mg/dL

LDL (“bad” cholesterol)

Less than 100 mg/dL*

HDL (“good” cholesterol)

40 mg/dL or higher


Less than 150 mg/dL

To prevent high cholesterol here are some steps you can take:

  • Know your numbers. Get your cholesterol checked on a regular basis.
  • Aim for a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, losing pounds can lower your cholesterol while gaining weight will actually increase your blood cholesterol level.
  • Keep active! Adults need a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week.
  • Plan healthy meals. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is a healthy way to increase fiber which can lower your cholesterol and which your body needs for a healthy heart. Avoid eating fats which will raise your cholesterol. These include dietary cholesterol and saturated fat found in meat and milk products and trans fat which is found in many processed foods.
  • Prepare meals using monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as canola oil and olive oil as these fats will actually lower your cholesterol level.
  • Avoid eating processed foods and eating out, especially at fast food restaurants, as many of these food choices are high in trans fat and sodium which will increase your risk of heart disease.
  • Take your medication if you’ve already been diagnosed with high cholesterol. Don’t stop if you feel better. Check with your doctor first.

Remember—high cholesterol has no symptoms. Know your number and take the first step toward a healthier heart.

For other tips on planning healthy meals or reducing your risk for chronic disease visit the MSU Extension website.

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