By medical definition, LDL is low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, commonly known as the "bad" cholesterol. High LDL levels are associated with an increased risk for heart disease and hence become the focus for many doctors and their patients. Cholesterol testing is often the first step in determining whether an individual is at risk for developing heart disease, and LDL levels are often the major focus of cholesterol lowering diets.
Often as part of a routine physical, a lipid profile may be ordered, which includes LDL testing. This is a blood test that measures the amount of low-density lipoprotein in the blood serum. Though testing is a simple blood test, 12-hour fasting is sometimes required and certain medications may need to be stopped for a short time before the test. A doctor will determine the necessary preparation based on the individual patient.
Because doctors have determined that LDL levels, rather than total cholesterol levels, are the best indicators of risk for heart disease and stroke, testing this level is important. Elevated levels increase these risks and often diet alone can lower them. Most cholesterol lowering diets are simple to follow and require avoiding certain foods.
Foods that are high in saturated fats and trans-fatty acids should be avoided in a diet to reduce LDL levels. Saturated fats are found in non-skim milk and dairy products such as cheese and cream, and are also found in meat and poultry. Meat should be eaten in smaller portions and baked, not fried. Substituting fish for meat and eating meatless meals twice a week can help lower LDL cholesterol. A cholesterol lowering diet should also include fruit; vegetables; and soluble fiber, which is found in oats, barley, and other grains as well as nuts and legumes.
When diet alone does not effectively achieve a patient's targeted cholesterol levels, cholesterol lowering medication is prescribed. Many different medications are available that produce different results, so talk to your doctor about monitoring cholesterol levels, especially if you are already at risk due to diabetes, smoking, or high blood pressure.