Cholesterol is a soft wax-like substance in your bloodstream and in your cells. When you have too much of the wrong kind of cholesterol, you could increase your risk for developing heart disease, heart attacks and other heart disease complications. Everyone has cholesterol. Your body needs cholesterol to produce cell membranes and some hormones and gets this cholesterol in two ways: some of it is made in the body and the rest comes from your diet. Eating too much of foods with high cholesterol can hurt you. These foods are animal products such as meats, poultry, fish, eggs, butter and whole milk. Plant foods such as fruit, vegetables and cereal don't have cholesterol. But beware. Some foods that don't have animal products may have trans fats, which cause your body to create more cholesterol. Also, getting too much saturated fat found in foods such as some vegetable oils and items made with them can cause the body to make too much cholesterol. Cholesterol can't dissolve in the blood and is carried from cell to cell by lipoproteins. You have two types of these lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as the "bad" cholesterol. Too much can cause your arteries to clog. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as the "good" cholesterol. You want to have this in your body because it protects you by carrying cholesterol away from your arteries and may even help reduce your risk of heart attack. Your triglyceride level is also important in your cholesterol picture. Triglycerides are the chemical form in which most fat exists in food and in the body. They come from fats found in foods and are also made in the body. Calories not used right away are changed to triglycerides and stored in fat cells. Between meals, your hormones regulate the release of triglycerides to give you energy. High levels of triglycerides are associated with a high risk of heart attack and stroke. People who have high triglyceride levels also have high total cholesterol and low HDL. People with diabetes or who are obese tend to have a high triglyceride level as well.
Your total blood cholesterol level
Blood cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). Your total blood cholesterol generally falls into these categories: