It is important to remember that cholesterol is a normal part of the body. It is made in the liver and used for many important functions; making vitamins, hormones and cells that line nerve tissue. Cholesterol is important! The trouble is when levels are too high in the bloodstream – particularly LDL particles.

LDL-Cholesterol, or LDL, is known as “bad” cholesterol and plays a role in heart disease and stroke by contributing to plaque formation in arteries.

In general, a high LDL can come from two places:

Diet. Eating a diet high in saturated fats, trans fats and not enough vegetables, fruit, and whole grains can lead to a high LDL. Many children with a high LDL are eating a lot of cheese (pizza, macaroni and cheese, etc) or red meat (hamburgers and hot dogs). They also may be eating fast food – even once a week can bump LDL levels.

Genetics. A genetic condition called Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH) can impact the way your body processes cholesterol. The LDL cholesterol doesn’t get recycled properly, which makes it hard to get LDL levels into a healthy range by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.

The good news is that most people – even patients with FH – can create a big difference on their LDL level by making healthy changes to their diet.

Important steps:

  1. Eat more vegetables! More salad, roasted veggies, sliced carrots and cucumbers – whatever works! I have seen patients make phenomenal improvements in labs just by increasing their veggie intake.
  2. More whole grains. Look for protein and fiber in cereals, specifically the word “whole” in breads. Try steel-cut oats or thick, rolled oats for breakfast.
  3. Shifting from unhealthy fats to healthy fats. (Read more on Facts About Fats)
  4. Cook and eat at home! Anything you make at home (ok, with maybe a couple of exceptions) will be healthier – and less expensive – than what you can get in a restaurant.
  5. Eat treats once or twice a week. Enjoy cookies or ice cream here and there – just not every day.

If you know anyone who has had an angioplasty or a cardiac bypass surgery, this is likely from plaque buildup that has blocked arteries. Once an artery gets blocked, it is very difficult to treat. Preventing plaque buildup is a key strategy to reduce the risk of heart disease. This can be done by eating a healthy diet from a young age.

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