Cholesterol, a waxy, fat-like substance found in every cell of the body, is needed for important functions such as vitamin D and hormone production. The body naturally produces cholesterol for these tasks, but the food we consume, specifically animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs, is also a source of cholesterol.

While some cholesterol is essential, too much is dangerous. High levels can cause excess cholesterol to be deposited along artery walls, narrowing them. This reduces blood flow to the heart and increases the risk for heart attack and stroke. Since there are no outward signs or symptoms of high cholesterol, it's important for adults to get their levels checked regularly and discuss the results with their medical provider.

Total Cholesterol Levels

<200 mg/dL = Desirable
200-239 mg/dL = Borderline high
≥240 mg/dL = High

Ways to Reduce your Cholesterol

  • Replace saturated and trans fat with unsaturated fats
  • Increase fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly

LDL vs. HDL Cholesterol

There are two main types of cholesterol: Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and High Density Lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is the bad cholesterol that is deposited along artery walls and can increase the risk of heart problems. HDL is the good cholesterol; it protects against heart disease by carrying the bad cholesterol to the liver where it is excreted by the body. Unlike other types of cholesterol, with HDL, the higher it is, the better.

LDL Cholesterol

<100 mg/dL = Optimal
100-129 mg/dL = Near Optimal
130-159 mg/dL = Borderline hHgh
160-189 mg/dL = High
≥190 mg/dL = Very High

Ways to Reduce your LDL Cholesterol Level

  • Decrease saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol
  • Increase soluble fiber (oats, beans, apples, carrots)
  • Be physically active most days of the week
  • Lose weight, if overweight
  • Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids

HDL Cholesterol Levels

≥60 mg/dL = Optimal
40-59 mg/dL = Low Risk
<50 mg/dL for women = High Risk
<40 mg/dL for men = High Risk

  • Ways to Raise your HDL Cholesterol Level
  • Increase physical activity level
  • Avoid tobacco products
  • Achieve and maintain a health weight

Total Cholesterol/HDL Ratio

This ratio is calculated by dividing total cholesterol by the HDL value and is a more accurate indicator of heart disease risk than either value alone; the lower the ratio, the lower the risk. To reduce your ratio, follow the tips above for lowering total cholesterol and raising HDL;  improvement in either individual factor will result in a lower ratio.

  • <5.1 for Men = Desirable
  • <4.4 for Women = Desirable

Key Website

CDC Cholesterol