Cholesterol basics

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in your blood. Your body makes some cholesterol to help it function properly.

You may also get cholesterol from some of the foods you eat and you may inherit a tendency toward high cholesterol.

When your blood cholesterol level is too high, the cholesterol builds up on the walls of your arteries. Over time, this can:

  • block the flow of blood to your heart, depriving it of oxygen (A partial blockage may result in chest pain. A total blockage will cause a heart attack.)
  • block the flow of blood to your brain, depriving it of oxygen. (A total blockage will cause a stroke.)

Eating a healthful diet and being physically activity can help reduce your risk for heart disease You should talk with your health care provider about your overall risk for heart disease.

What can help control cholesterol?

You can help control your cholesterol level in the following ways:

  • Eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol.
    This includes:
    • vegetables and fruits
    • whole grains
    • fat-free or low-fat dairy products
    • lean protein such as chicken breast, turkey breast, fish, legumes (beans, lentils, peas) and soy
    • healthful oils (olive oil, canola oil, etc.) and nuts.
      Limit sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and red meats. Avoid eating "tropical" oils such as coconut, palm kernel and palm oils
  • Lose weight if you are overweight. This can lower your LDL level and raise your HDL level.
  • Be physically active three to four times each week for a total of at least 150 minutes. This can also lower your LDL level and raise your HDL level.
  • Take any medicine to lower your cholesterol as prescribed. Eating more healthful foods and increasing your activity level are often not enough to reach your cholesterol goals.

You may have a high cholesterol level and not yet have any signs of disease. Your health care provider will recommend how often to have your cholesterol level checked.

Low dose aspirin

Research shows that taking a low dose of aspirin every day can reduce your risk of heart disease.

Aspirin helps prevent blood clots that can block the flow of blood and lead to heart attack or stroke.

But taking aspirin is not safe for everyone, so it is important to talk with your health care provider before you start taking aspirin every day.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Prediabetes: Reducing Type 2 Diabetes Risk Through a Lifestyle of Good Nutrition and Activity, first edition, dia-ah-94403
Reviewed By: Allina Health Patient Education
First Published: 04/02/2009
Last Reviewed: 01/28/2019