Cholesterol management can be difficult. Which kind is good? Which kind is bad? What foods have the good and bad types in them? How much is too much? Your body produces all the “bad” cholesterol you need naturally so including it in your diet isn’t a great idea.

Because cholesterol moves through your whole body in your blood, it is important to know how much you are putting into your system. Together with other substances, cholesterol can cause atherosclerosis which can lead to coronary heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.

There are two types of Cholesterol. Low density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as bad cholesterol. This is the type of cholesterol that can cause artherosclerosis. High density lipoprotein, or HDL, is referred to as good cholesterol. The CDC states that HDL is “good” because it absorbs the LDL and carries it back to the liver to be flushed out of your system. To help me remember which is which, I think about the H in HDL making my body happy.

Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) per deciliter (dL) of blood. The desirable level for total cholesterol is under 200 mg/dL. As for LDL less than 100mg/dL is considered optimal with 130-159 being borderline high. With HDL, higher numbers are better. A level less than 40 mg/dL is low and a major risk factor for heart disease. HDL levels of 60 or more is recommended to lower your risk.

There are some things you can do to help keep your cholesterol under control. Eat a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Foods high in saturated fat are the main thing diet wise that will drive your cholesterol up. Maintaining a healthy weight can also help keep LDL levels down and HDL levels up. Finally, regular physical activity has also been shown to lower LDL and raise HDL. Some factors that are out of your control can also affect your cholesterol levels. Age and gender play a role. Women have lower cholesterol than men of the same age but both gender’s levels rise with age. Also, women’s LDL levels tend to rise after menopause so it is a good idea to pay attention to your levels as you age.

Which foods are good and which foods are bad?

Let’s start with the bad. The worst foods for your LDL cholesterol levels are saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fat is typically found in fatty red meat, whole dairy products, eggs, crackers, cookies, and other bakery items. It is also good to avoid foods that are high in sugar. If you read your food labels and avoid high levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fats, and sugars you will be better off. There are also foods that help lower cholesterol.

Look for foods that are high in fiber like fruits and vegetables and foods that contain whole grains. Choose poultry without the skin and leaner cuts of meat such as pork tenderloin and beef round, tenderloin, or sirloin. Try to find meat that is at least 92 percent fat free. Protein rich beans are also a great choice.

Check your food labels and get plenty of exercise to help control the things that are within your ability to control.

Tyler Glidden is the wellness director for the McPherson Family YMCA.