If you’re anything like I am, you find yourself besieged with numbers you need to recall just to function through your daily tasks. There’s the all-important PIN number, countless passwords, and frequently dialed phone numbers, just to name a few. While all of these digits are important, they should play second string to some very significant numbers that each of us should know – our cholesterol numbers.

Estimates are that 99.5 million American adults have total blood cholesterol values of 200 and higher, and about 39.9 million American adults have levels of 240 or above. In adults, total cholesterol levels of 240 or higher are considered high, and levels from 200 to 239 are considered borderline-high.  

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found among the fats in the bloodstream and in all your body’s cells. Cholesterol is an important part of a healthy body because it’s used to form cell membranes, some hormones and other needed tissues. But a high level of cholesterol in the blood is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which can lead to heart attack.

What is LDL cholesterol?

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, is the major cholesterol carrier in the blood. Too much LDL cholesterol can form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries, restrict blood flow to the heart and cause a heart attack. A high level of LDL cholesterol (130 mg/dL and above) reflects an increased risk of heart disease.

What is HDL cholesterol?

About one-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol is carried by high-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol because a high level of HDL seems to protect against heart attack. The opposite is also true: a low HDL level (less than 40 mg/dL) indicates a greater risk. 

What about cholesterol and diet?

People acquire cholesterol in two ways. The body — mainly the liver — produces cholesterol, while the rest comes directly from foods. Foods from animals (egg yolks, meat, poultry, fish, seafood and whole-milk dairy products) contain it. Foods from plants (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds) don’t contain cholesterol. Typically the body makes all the cholesterol it needs, so people don’t need to consume it.

Saturated fatty acids are the chief culprit in raising blood cholesterol, which increases a person’s risk of heart disease. Trans fats also raise blood cholesterol. But dietary cholesterol also plays a part. The average American man consumes about 337 mg of cholesterol a day; the average woman, 217 mg.

The American Heart Association recommends that you limit your average daily cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg. If you have heart disease, limit your daily intake to less than 200 mg. Still, everyone should remember that by keeping their dietary intake of saturated fats low, they will also be able to significantly lower their dietary cholesterol intake. Foods high in saturated fat generally contain substantial amounts of dietary cholesterol.

What can you do to improve your numbers?

People who have excess body fat are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors. Obesity is unhealthy because it’s directly linked with coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and makes diabetes more likely to develop.

One of the best things you can do to improve your cholesterol levels is to develop healthier eating habits and lose excess weight. Physicians WEIGHT LOSS Centers has been helping clients lose weight and learn healthy eating habits for over 30 years. The staff at PWLC helps clients learn what foods contain cholesterol, how much, and how one can eat a pleasurable and healthy diet while maintaining a healthful cholesterol intake.  We offer one-on-one support, weekly weigh-ins, and nutrition and behavior guidance carefully monitored by a board-certified physician, a licensed nurse, and staff counselors. And we begin and end every client’s program with a comprehensive blood test which includes total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglyceride numbers.

If you don’t ‘know your numbers,’ now is the time to become informed and take control of your health. Call Physicians WEIGHT LOSS Centers at (402) 483-7952 to schedule your screening or learn more about improving your numbers for a healthy heart.