Research has proven beyond doubt that high levels of cholesterol in the body could cause a weakening of the human heart and ultimately result in the person suffering a stroke or a heart attack. Healthcare specialists now say that we can do something to ensure cholesterol stays within control.

Of the many factors that contribute to high cholesterol levels, things like age, gender and genetics are outside of our control. However, there are many things one can do to stay healthy, says Dr. Karim Namek, head of the Division of Hospitalist Medicine at The Hospital of Central Connecticut.

The first step is to understand cholesterol and realize that the body and food are the two prime sources for it. The latter is called dietary cholesterol while those produced by the body is termed blood cholesterol and is a fat-like substance used to form cell membranes and tissues.

Since the body produces enough cholesterol to perform crucial functions, it is important to regulate the intake via food. Cholesterol is found in meat, seafood, poultry and dairy products and the American Heart Association stipulates a maximum daily intake of 300 milligrams.

Here is what you can do to ensure that cholesterol does not turn a killer...

  • Schedule a cholesterol test regularly. Total count should measure less than 200 and anythingin the range of 200 to 240 is considered borderline while those with 240 and above are considered at increased risk. Also understand that HDL is good cholesterol that removes the substance from arteries and back to the liver, LDL is bad cholesterol as it gets deposited in the arteries.  HDL should range between 40 60 60 while LDL must be at 100 and triglycerides below 150.

  • Eat Smart and cut down on saturated fats and dietary cholesterol. Limiting saturated fat to less than 7 percent of daily calories and avoiding trans fat will help lower LDL cholesterol. Use polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats like safflower, sesame, sunflower, corn, soybean, canola, olive and peanut oils. Plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain food is a must. Enhance soluble fiber found in oats, beats and citrus fruits.

  • Adopt a healthier lifestyle with regular exercise that raises good cholesterol and cuts down the bad ones. Get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity workouts daily and double it if you need to lose weight. Remember that smoking lowers good cholesterol levels.