We all hear about cholesterol and how we need to lower it, but what is this mysterious thing? Cholesterol is a lipid, and it exists in our cell membranes and blood plasma. Most of our cholesterol is created by our bodies, and organs with more membranes tend to make more of it (the brain, spinal cord and liver, for example). Cholesterol is used in many of body's functions and comes in two types: LDL ("bad" cholesterol) and HDL ("good" cholesterol). The problems with cholesterol occur when someone has abnormally high levels of LDL cholesterol and low amounts of HDL cholesterol.
The purpose behind lowering cholesterol levels, then, is to only lower the LDL cholesterol levels. Doing so will reduce your chances of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. Higher HDL levels, on the other hand, cause cholesterol to be removed from cells, which helps protect against these health problems. Therefore, when you hear that you need to reduce cholesterol, what people are really saying is that you need to reduce the LDL cholesterol in your body.
Reports show that you want your LDL cholesterol level to be less than 100 mg/dL, which is considered the normal range. You run more health risks with higher levels. Cholesterol above 150 mg/dL is considered high. The American Heart Association recommends that you have your cholesterol level tested every five years to check for problems.
If your test shows that you have high cholesterol, you'll want to go on a low-cholesterol diet. This means you'll have to cut out many animal fats from your diet since they contain cholesterol. This means no beef, eggs, poultry or shrimp. Plants also have cholesterol in them, but the amount is so small that you don't have to worry about it. On the other hand, many plant products like peanuts contain phytosterols, which is similar to cholesterol, but these actually help to lower your cholesterol.
You can't completely cut cholesterol out of your diet since it's in just about everything we eat; however, by cutting out many animal fats and foods high in cholesterol, you can live a much healthier life and prevent many diseases and illnesses before they happen.