It's more than just red meat raising those numbers.

woman at table holding cheeseburger
Credit: Getty / agrobacter

You never want to hear that your blood work has come back with elevated numbers, but this is especially true when it comes to your cholesterol. Elevated cholesterol values, which involve both your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) values, can cause heart trouble down the line. As a baseline, the average adult should have a total cholesterol level of 200 milligrams per deciliter or less (and your LDLs should be less than 100). Ahead, we explore why your numbers might be above this baseline as well as what you can do to lower them over time.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a substance that is found in your bloodstream, and the density of that cholesterol per deciliter is what determines if your numbers are considered high. The reason why the average adult needs to keep their cholesterol numbers below that "high" mark is because more cholesterol in the bloodstream increases your risk for heart disease and cause fatty deposits to block your blood vessels.

What causes high values?

According to Dr. Michael Hall, there are a number of things that can raise your cholesterol. "Cholesterol comes from anything with eyeballs—so all animals from the air, sea, and land have cholesterol," he says, adding that plants do not. This is also why people who test on-trend diets may find themselves surprised at their next physical; followers of the Keto diet, for example, are more likely to experience a bump in their cholesterol numbers, even if they are losing weight, because of the added animal byproducts they consume.

And it's not just red meat that contains high levels of cholesterol (although it does contain more than its leaner white meat counterparts). "Fish, shrimp, and lobster have high levels of cholesterol, too, so avoiding beef and pork aren't the only meats to considered backing off of," Dr. Hall explains. Beyond the consumption of animals, animal byproducts are also to blame: The cheese on your weekend pizza could be increasing your cholesterol, even if you skip the pepperoni. Additionally, sugars and alcohol can also bump these numbers.

How can I lower my cholesterol?

The obvious answer to non-genetic high cholesterol (the kind that is diet-driven) is to simply change what you eat. Dr. Hall says that means reducing your consumption of animal products of any sort, including milk, cheese cream, and butter. Certain foods can also lower your LDL cholesterol, like almonds and walnuts. "You can use red years rice and niacin to help lower it naturally as well," he adds. If your numbers are high due to poor diet, or a diet that is rich in red meats and animal byproducts, adjusting what you eat may be enough to lower those numbers.

However, if you are having trouble getting them down through diet alone, increase your exercise. If that doesn't help, go straight to your doctor—and talk to him or her about taking a medication. Whatever route you take, reducing your cholesterol is crucial, since prolonged high values can cause lifelong health issues.


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