Q: LDL, HDL, total cholesterol, triglycerides—what should I be most concerned about?

A: Think about it in terms of all the puzzle pieces. It’s recommended that you have your cholesterol checked beginning at age 20, and you should know your complete cholesterol profile—LDL, HDL and total numbers, as well as triglycerides.

Your total cholesterol level is really a peek into your cardiovascular risk, so you should break it down further. LDL cholesterol is the bad stuff, and triglycerides are another type of blood fat that tend to rise with the consumption of “comfort carbs.” HDL is the one type of cholesterol you actually want in higher numbers because it can help protect the heart. Women tend to have naturally higher levels of HDL, so if their levels are low, it’s a concern. (Women with high total or LDL cholesterol levels should still be treated, even if their HDL numbers are great.)

If your numbers are high, here’s a goal to set: First, measure your waist circumference one inch above your belly button. Then take your height and divide it by two. Larger waist measurements often go hand-in-hand with higher cholesterol levels, so aim to get your waist measurement lower than the number you got by dividing your height by two. This can really have a big impact on your cholesterol levels.

For questions to ask your doctor about cholesterol and heart health, click here or to learn more about the relationship between cholesterol and your lifestyle, click here.