On Your Health

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A Guide to Healthy Cholesterol

According to the Oklahoma City County Health Department, one in six adults has high cholesterol, one of the leading causes of heart disease in the U.S.

Heart attack, stroke, heart failure, cardiovascular disease and other conditions can be caused by high cholesterol. We’ve broken down the basics to help you maintain or improve your healthy cholesterol levels.

What is healthy cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance created naturally by your body and increased by certain foods. While your body requires some cholesterol to function, excess amounts can build up in your blood vessel walls, increasing your risk of heart disease, heart attacks and stroke.

Your total cholesterol is measured by the overall amount of triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in your blood.

  • Triglycerides are a type of lipid (fat) in your blood. They are created by excess calories that are stored in fat cells to be used later for energy.
  • LDL can build up on artery walls and block blood vessels, increasing your risk for heart disease. Often called “bad” cholesterol, LDL can be increased by a diet high in saturated and trans fat.
  • HDL, or “good” cholesterol, protects your heart by removing bad cholesterol from your blood to prevent it from building up in your arteries. When you have healthy HDL levels, it sends the extra cholesterol and plaque in your arteries to the liver, where it is removed from the body.

Healthy cholesterol levels

Cholesterol levels can change over time, which is why The American Heart Association recommends that adults (age 20 and older) should have their cholesterol checked every four to six years. Men typically see increases in their cholesterol as they age and tend to have higher levels throughout their lives than women. Women’s cholesterol typically increases during menopause.

A complete cholesterol test, also known as a lipoprotein or lipid profile, shows triglyceride, LDL, HDL and total cholesterol levels.

You have healthy cholesterol levels when each category is properly balanced. Ideally, you would see each of your levels in the “good” range. This means your risk for cardiovascular disease is low. The following chart breaks down each category’s levels measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

Cholesterol and Triglyceride levels in adults table

How to reduce cholesterol levels

While family history, gender, age and other conditions can play a part in your risk, there are several lifestyle changes that can help you reduce your cholesterol levels.


Not only is exercise beneficial for overall health and wellness, it also plays a significant role in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Low activity can increase triglycerides, while just 30 minutes of daily moderate cardio can boost your HDL levels. From cardio to group classes, there are many options available to increase your activity and achieve healthy cholesterol levels.

Replace saturated fats with healthy fats

Saturated fats found in cheese, whole milk and fatty red meats such as beef, pork or lamb have been found to increase LDL levels. Limit your intake of saturated fats and replace them with healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, wild-caught fish, flax, nuts and seeds. One simple way to make the switch is to choose healthier cooking oils and swap red meat for lean protein.

Eat more fiber

There are several types of food that can help lower cholesterol. Although there has been an increase in “gluten anxiety” in the past decade most experts still preach that whole grains such as bran, brown rice and oats are some of the best foods for lowering your cholesterol. These grains contain plenty of soluble fiber, which boots HDL cholesterol. Try eating two servings of whole grains a day.

Eat more vegetables and fruit, especially eggplant and okra, which are especially high in soluble fiber. Fruits that are rich in pectin, a type of soluble fiber that lowers LDL, include apples, pears, grapes, prunes, strawberries and citrus fruits.

Quit smoking

Most people know that smoking is bad for your lung health, but it’s also bad for your heart. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that “one-third of deaths from cardiovascular disease are caused by smoking.”

The other major factor in cardiovascular deaths? High cholesterol. Smoking lowers your HDL levels, in turn raising your LDL cholesterol. If your cholesterol is already high, smoking significantly increases your risk of heart disease.

With regular exercise, a heart-healthy diet and regular monitoring of your cholesterol levels, you can achieve and maintain healthy cholesterol. Monitor your annual health with an INTEGRIS Health primary care physician and stay on track for healthy cholesterol and a strong heart.


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