A Nurse's Guide to Cholesterol and Maintaining a Healthy Diet

Cholesterol is a waxy substance the body uses to build cells. It circulates in the blood and is found in every cell in the body. Depending on the type, cholesterol can be helpful or harmful. It is important to understand how cholesterol is produced, what types there are and how to live a lifestyle that supports healthy cholesterol levels.

Where does cholesterol come from?

Cholesterol comes from two primary sources. Within the body, the liver makes and clears cholesterol. It also detoxifies the body and plays a part in metabolic function. All the cholesterol the body needs is produced by the liver. Cholesterol is also found in food from animals including meat, full fat dairy products and poultry. These foods are high in trans fats and saturated fat. These foods, in addition to some tropical oils, trigger the liver to make more cholesterol. When the liver makes more cholesterol than the body needs health problems can occur.

What is the difference between “good” and “bad” cholesterol?

Cholesterol is carried through the blood on lipoproteins. Lipoproteins are made up of lipids and apolipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins which carry cholesterol throughout the body: HDL and LDL.

HDL is an acronym for “high density lipoprotein.” This type is often known as “good” cholesterol. HDL travels through the bloodstream, removing harmful cholesterol. It carries it back to the liver for reprocessing. It also helps to maintain the inner walls of blood vessels. Damage to these walls can lead to atherosclerosis, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks. People with an elevated level of HDL are less likely to suffer from heart disease.

LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is known as “bad” cholesterol. LDL build up on the walls of blood vessels. This build up causes blood clots which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. High LDL levels can be an inherited condition. Often, these levels are a result of lifestyle such as diet. Lifestyle changes and medication can be used to lower high LDL levels to a safe number.

Plan to Balance Your Child’s Diet and Health

The number of children classified as obese in the United States has more than tripled in the last forty years. There are many factors that add to that statistic, such as increased screen time and less time playing outside, and increased consumption of processed foods. The solution to the problem is a healthy diet and exercise. Children need a certain number of calories to have the energy to grow and learn. When that amount is exceeded, weight gain happens.

There are many things parents can do to help children achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Parents should strive to make healthy choices for themselves. Children model the behavior of their parents. If a parent is observed making healthy food choices and exercising, the child is likely to follow suit. Make healthy snacks available in the home. Arrange the pantry so that there are a variety of healthy snack choices. Avoid eating fast food on a regular basis and be persistent about offering healthy food options at mealtimes.

Questions for Your Doctor

The pediatrician or family doctor is a crucial point of contact when parents have concerns about their child’s weight or cholesterol levels. It is important to enter the appointment informed about the right questions to ask the doctor. Together a plan can be developed to help the child patient get and stay heart healthy.