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Get on Track with Better Living

Find information, tips, and resources on managing your diabetes

Live a healthier, fuller life by learning more about the types of diabetes, potential complications, and ways to receive insurance coverage.

Cholesterol and Diabetes: Why They Affect Each Other

If you have diabetes, you are more likely to have problems with cholesterol, a major contributor to heart disease and diabetes complications. By living with fluctuating blood sugar levels, cholesterol has a tendency to lower your "good" cholesterol and raise your "bad" cholesterol levels. Doctors may refer to this as diabetic dyslipidemia, a deadly combination that puts you at risk for coronary heart disease and hardened arteries.

Managing your cholesterol through diet, exercise, and medication can lower your chances of cardiovascular disease and other serious health conditions. In fact, a person with diabetes who lowers their cholesterol can reduce cardiovascular complications by 20 to 50 percent, thus avoiding diabetes complications as well.

Cholesterol Basics

It's important to understand what cholesterol is and where it comes from. Essentially, cholesterol is a waxy substance made by your liver. Your body uses cholesterol to create hormones and build cell membranes and other tissues. Cholesterol also comes from the animal foods we eat - eggs, meat, fish,poultry and dairy products.

Not all cholesterol is necessarily bad for you. HDL, or "good" cholesterol, helps remove bad cholesterol from your body. HDL lipoproteins can be found in foods such as salmon and olive oil. Despite their labeling as "good", these should still be consumed in moderation. LDL, or "bad" cholesterol should be kept at low levels to protect blood vessels and the heart.

Cholesterol and Diabetes Goals

You should have your cholesterol checked regularly. During the check up, there are a few numbers that you should strive for in your cholesterol and diabetes goals:

  • Target levels for LDL cholesterol are lower for people with diabetes - around 100 mg/dL. If you have other risk factors, your healthcare provider may want your level to be below 70 mg/dL.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol - the so-called "good" cholesterol - actually helps remove cholesterol from the blood. HDL cholesterol levels of 60 mg/dL and above are considered protective against heart disease. Your HDL cholesterol levels should not fall below 40 mg/dL.
  • Triglycerides, the main form in which fats exist in the body, should fall below 150 mg/dL.

You Are What You Eat

One of the smartest moves you can make for effective diabetes cholesterol control is to eat less saturated fat. Saturated fats have a profound effect on blood cholesterol levels. Plus, foods that have a lot of saturated fat usually have a lot of cholesterol. In short, a nutrient-rich diabetes diet and foods low in cholesterol often go hand in hand in improving overall health for diabetics.

For solid management, consider these guidelines:

  • When choosing oils and margarines, look for those with less than 20g of saturated fat per 100g and no trans fats. With other foods, look for options with less than 2g of saturated fat per 100g.
  • Although most of the foods high in cholesterol come from animals, some plant-based foods - such as prepared cookies, cakes and snack foods - can have animal fats added to them when they are prepared.
  • Choose skim or low-fat milk, cheese, ice cream and yogurt.
  • Choose lean meat and chicken and trim/remove any fat before cooking.
  • Limit the use of processed deli meat.
  • Limit fast foods and choose healthy alternatives when eating out (ex. A baked potato instead of French fries).

Watch For Triglycerides, Too

Another thing to watch for with cholesterol and diabetes is triglycerides. This type of fat is one of the main components of vegetable oil and animal fats. People with diabetes typically have higher-than-normal levels of triglycerides, as increased glucose in the blood makes it harder for the body to absorb fat from the bloodstream. Avoid them by sparingly consuming foods containing these elements.

Exercise Regularly

Regular physical activity is good for your diabetes and cholesterol. Exercise helps increase your HDL "good" cholesterol level, and also helps insulin work better. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week to keep high cholesterol at bay.

Of course, managing high cholesterol and diabetes may also include cholesterol-lowering medications. Ask your doctor about the effects your diabetes medication may have on your cholesterol and make the steps toward keeping both at low levels.