You can find cholesterol in all the cells of your body. This waxy, fat-like substance is used by your body to make vitamin D, hormones, and other chemicals that help you digest food.

Cholesterol is found in foods like meat, cheese, and egg yolks. Your body can also make the cholesterol it needs.

Excess cholesterol can combine with other substances in your blood, forming HDL and LDL. These are lipoproteins, a combination of lipids (commonly known as fats) and proteins.

High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is considered "good cholesterol". It carries cholesterol from your body to the liver where it is destroyed.

Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) is sometimes called “bad cholesterol”. This cholesterol is responsible for atherosclerosis or the build-up of plaque in your arteries. This build-up can lead to coronary artery disease where your arteries become narrow or blocked.

What is High Cholesterol?

You have high cholesterol when the level of cholesterol in your body is above normal ranges. For an average adult, the total cholesterol level should be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). If your cholesterol levels are more than 240 mg/dL, you have high cholesterol. A reading between 200 and 239 mg/dL is considered borderline.

The above parameters refer to your total cholesterol level - the combination of HDL and LDL.

Ideally, LDL cholesterol levels should be below 100 mg/dL while a reading between 100 to 129 mg/dL is considered acceptable but can be concerning for people with heart conditions. If your LDL cholesterol level is between 130 to 159 mg/dL, that’s borderline high. While 160 to 189 mg/dL is high.

You should aim to keep your HDL levels higher, preferably 60 mg/dL or higher.

What Are The Causes of High Cholesterol?

Your genes play a significant factor in your cholesterol levels. If your parents have high cholesterol, there’s a big chance that you will have it too. Aside from heredity, several lifestyle choices cause high cholesterol. Below are some of them:

1. You don’t eat right

Eating food rich in saturated fat is one of the causes of high cholesterol. Saturated fat is usually found in beef, pork, butter, and dairy. Eating processed food rich in trans fats (partially hydrogenated fats or oils) can also increase your risk. Trans fat is commonly found in cookies, pastries, muffins, pizza dough and fried foods.

Eating plenty of fruits, whole grains, fish, nuts, poultry, and vegetables can help to increase the levels of good cholesterol in your body.

2. You are obese

If your body mass index (BMI) is more than 30, chances are, you have more bad cholesterol than good cholesterol in your body. Avoid sitting too long. If you have a desk job, try to move around every 30 minutes to get your blood flowing. Losing just 10 per cent of your body weight can do wonders to your body.

3. You don’t exercise

Exercise burns fat. It also helps boost the levels of HDL in your body. Walking, cycling, or swimming for 40 minutes every other day can effectively lower bad cholesterol.

4. You smoke

Studies found that smoking lowers the level of good cholesterol in your body. It also damages the walls of your blood vessels, causing your blood to circulate poorly. Not to mention smoking is one of the leading cause of lung cancer worldwide.

If you are not a smoker, stay away from second smoke. It’s just as dangerous!

5. You don’t eat good fats

Yep, you’ve read it right. You can still eat fats - just the good ones. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats found in olives, walnuts, salmon, avocadoes, and trout are good for your body. Just limit your fat intake to 30% of your daily calories.

6. You don't eat fibre

There are two types of fibres - insoluble and soluble. The latter dissolves in water while the former doesn't. Although both types are good for your health, soluble fibres found in oatmeal, fruits, lentils, vegetables, and beans can help lower bad cholesterol.

7. You drink too much alcohol

Alcohol messes up with your cholesterol levels. It can also increase the levels of fat in your blood. Drink in moderation and try not to exceed the recommended daily intake.

8. You don’t check your cholesterol levels

It’s hard to determine your cholesterol numbers on your own. Getting your cholesterol levels checked regularly can help you manage your HDL and LDL levels more effectively. Get a simple blood test every four years to make sure that your cholesterol levels are normal.

9. You don’t pay attention to other health conditions

Diabetes, high blood pressure, liver diseases, and kidney problems are all linked to high cholesterol. If you have one of these health conditions, chances are you have high levels of LDL in your blood. Manage these illnesses well, and your cholesterol levels will follow suit.

List of Foods High in Cholesterol

Below is a list of foods high in cholesterol. It's not an exhaustive list, but it should give you an idea on what to avoid or eat in moderation.

  • Fried foods – deep-fried foods are loaded with calories and trans fats.
  • Fast foods – studies show that those who eat fast food regularly have higher levels of cholesterol. They also have more belly fat and suffer more from impaired blood sugar levels.
  • Processed meats – products like hotdogs, sausages, and bacon are high in cholesterol and should be taken in moderation.
  • Desserts – ice cream, cookies, pastries, and cakes are not just high in added sugars. They tend to be high in bad cholesterols too.

High levels of cholesterol are linked with various diseases like stroke and heart disease. Getting your cholesterol checked regularly and avoiding the foods and bad habits listed in this article can significantly lower your risks of developing such diseases. Eating healthy and exercising regularly can greatly improve your quality of life.