Your Top Three Cholesterol Questions—Answered!

Cholesterol: Everyone has heard of it, but many people don’t really get what it actually is or how it works (besides knowing that too much of it is bad). According to the American Heart Association, cholesterol is a waxy substance that – when there is too much of a specific kind of it – can form plaque between layers of your artery walls and raise your risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve rounded up three of the most common questions people have around their cholesterol levels to try and help clear up the confusion.

Can foods high in cholesterol raise your cholesterol?

The short answer to this is yes, but it’s not the biggest dietary concern. That belongs to saturated and trans fats. Your liver produces more cholesterol when you eat foods high in saturated and trans fats, which is why a healthy diet is important in keeping your cholesterol levels low. That doesn’t mean you can ignore the amount of cholesterol in food—too much dietary cholesterol can hurt your levels as well. Foods to cut down on include eggs (aim for less than four yolks a week), dairy products, meat, poultry, fish and shellfish. On the other hand, there are also certain foods (like oatmeal, fish and walnuts) that may be helpful in reducing your total cholesterol levels.

Can I have too much good cholesterol?

Cholesterol isn’t all bad. In fact, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) has been dubbed the “good cholesterol” because it removes harmful bad cholesterol from where it doesn’t belong and can reduce one’s risk of heart disease. But, like many things in life, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Researchers have now discovered that too much HDL can actually place certain people at a higher risk for the very health problems that it is supposed to protect them against, including chest pain, heart attacks and even death. This is just one of the many reasons why it’s important to talk with your doctor about your individual levels. The American Heart Association recommends all adults age 20 or older have their cholesterol checked every four to six years.

Outside of diet, what other factors affect your cholesterol level?

There are several other factors that can affect your overall cholesterol level:

  • Physical activity: Regular exercise for at least 30 minutes most days can go a long way in reducing your cholesterol level. If you find it difficult to squeeze in exercise, the Mayo Clinic recommends taking a brisk walk during your daily lunch break or riding your bike to or from work.
  • Age and gender: Your cholesterol levels naturally increase as you age. Before menopause, women tend to have lower total cholesterol levels than men. After menopause, though, women’s levels tend to rise.
  • Genetics: While LDL (“bad”) cholesterol is produced naturally by your body, many people can inherit genes that cause them to make too much of it. If high cholesterol runs in your family, lifestyle changes may not be enough to help lower your levels. That’s why it’s important to consult your doctor to understand your risk.

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Photo credit: Anile Prakash


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