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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well


Melissa Bess, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Camden County, University of Missouri Extension


Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance, only found in animal products. Therefore, foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, or other foods of plant origin are cholesterol-free.

Cholesterol is also made in the body and has a several functions. Cholesterol is used to produce hormones, parts the nervous system, and is found in every cell in the body.

Once absorbed or produced, cholesterol is transported through the body by substances called lipoproteins. There are two major types of lipoproteins: high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). HDL is the “good” cholesterol because it helps pick up and dissolve fatty deposits in the arteries. LDL is the “bad” cholesterol because it builds up on artery walls and clogs arteries.

LDL cholesterol less than 100 mg/dL is desirable; however levels at 130 mg/dL or less is near optimal for most people. Having LDL levels at more than 160 mg/dL or at 130 mg/dL if you have two or more risk factors for heart disease, is considered a high level.

An optimal level for HDL cholesterol is 40 mg/dL or higher. Women should have an HDL of 50 mg/dL or higher. You can raise HDL levels by exercising, eating healthy, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Total cholesterol should be lower than 200 mg/dL.
Here are some daily guidelines to help you watch your cholesterol:


  • Eat a variety of foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
  • Eat at least 2 cups of vegetables per day and 1 cups of fruits per day.
  • Eat at least 5-ounce equivalents of grain products per day, with half of those being whole grains. A 1-ounce equivalent is equal to one slice of bread, 1 cup of cereal, or cup of cooked rice, cereal or pasta. Whole grains include brown rice, whole wheat breads, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, and some cereals.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and trim visible fat and the skin off meats.
  • Consume low-fat or fat-free milk products rather than whole milk or full-fat products.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and be active at least 30 minutes per day.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Cook with olive or canola oil instead of shortening or lard.
  • If you are on cholesterol medication, follow the instructions from your physician.
  • Add foods with omega-3 fatty acids into your diet. Fish, walnuts, canola oil, and some modified foods (such as omega-3 fortified eggs, spreads, peanut butter, or oatmeal) contain omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Try flaxseed. You can buy ground flaxseed at many grocery stores or health food stores. Add a little flax to baked goods, sprinkle on top of salads, yogurt or add to a smoothie.
  • Limit organ meats, egg yolks, high-fat dairy products, meat, and poultry as these foods are high in cholesterol. It is preferable to eat the lower fat versions of poultry and meats and to trim the skin to reduce the amount of cholesterol.
  • Soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol and is found in dried beans, oat bran, and some fruits and vegetables.
  • Supplements are also available to help lower cholesterol, but talk with your physician before trying any of these.


For more information contact contact Melissa Bess at 573-346-2644 or email at



Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009








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