Lipid (Cholesterol) Management

High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart and vascular disease.

Cholesterol and other fats (lipids) are carried in the blood along with certain proteins called lipoproteins. These are measured by a blood test called a lipid panel or profile.


Your total blood cholesterol level should be less than 200 mg/dL. All the cholesterol you need can be made by your liver, but we also eat cholesterol in food. As your cholesterol rises above 200, your risk for heart attack and stroke also increases.

High-density lipoproteins (HDL)

Known as the "good" cholesterol, they help remove excess cholesterol from the body cells and tissues. Higher levels of HDL are linked with lower risk of heart attack. Desirable levels are greater than 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women.

Low-density lipoproteins (LDL)

Known as the "bad" cholesterol, they cause the buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. High levels may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Desirable levels are less than:

  • 160 mg/dL, if you are at low risk for heart and vascular disease (0 to 1 risk factors)
  • 130 mg/dL, if you have two or more risk factors
  • 100 mg/dL, if you have cardiac or vascular disease or are a diabetic

Triglycerides are transported in the blood and are broken down for energy. Sugar, alcohol and saturated fat in foods may increase triglyceride levels. Normal levels are less than 150 mg/dL.

To keep your lipid profiles within the needed range:

  • Follow a diet low in fat and cholesterol
  • Maintain a normal weight
  • Exercise
  • Take needed lipid-lowering medicines, as prescribed

The Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC) guidelines suggest a diet that limits fat intake to about 30 percent of total calories; only seven percent of the total calories should be from saturated fat. TLC also suggests you limit your intake of cholesterol and sodium. A Northwestern Medicine dietitian can discuss ways for you to reduce your fat and cholesterol intake.

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