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Cholesterol – the Good and the Bad

You might think of cholesterol as being “good” or “bad”. But these two different kinds of cholesterol are not like a ’50s Western. Even the cholesterol wearing the black hat isn’t all bad.

Cholesterol and Your Diet

Your body actually needs both kids of cholesterol. Cholesterol helps to build your cell membranes and make some hormones and vitamin D. The lipoproteins you hear about the most are LDLs and HDLs. 

There are two types of cholesterol:

  • low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or the “bad” cholesterol and
  • high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or the “good” cholesterol. 

It is important to keep your good and bad cholesterol at healthy levels. One way to do this is by eating a healthy diet that includes a good amount of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is found in foods like:

  • oatmeal
  • kidney beans
  • apples
  • pears
  • barley
  • brussels sprouts
  • prunes.

 Use healthy polyunsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids instead of unhealthy fats. You can find healthy fats in:

  • walnuts
  • almonds
  • fatty fish– including mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon. 

Cholesterol and Exercise

Exercising can also help you control your cholesterol.

  • Physical activity can decrease your LDL and increase your HDL levels.
  • You can see health benefits with as little as 60 minutes of moderate level exercise a week.
  • The more you exercise, the more health benefits you will see! 

Make sure you talk to your doctor before you start a new exercise or diet plan!  

Cholesterol and Your Body

Not all LDLs are bad. The LDLs carry cholesterol from your liver (where they are made) to the rest of your body. But, having too many LDLs in your blood can harm your health. The LDLs can cause a plaque build-up in the arteries near your heart. Over time, the plaques can grow to block blood from flowing. This is definitely a BAD thing! 

HDLs have a very different job. They carry cholesterol from the bloodstream back to the liver sand keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries.

Cholesterol Levels

If you have heart disease, you want to have an LDL level under100 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dl) and an HDL level above 40 mg/dl. The average HDL level for men is about 45, and for women, it is 55.  

High levels of LDLs could be caused by many things, including your:

  • Family history(heredity). Does high cholesterol run in your family?
  • Diet. Do you eat a lot of foods high in saturated fat?
  • Weight. Are you over weight?
  • Lack of physical activity. Do you exercise for 30 minutes at least 3 times a week?  
  • Age. Are you younger than 65? 

Remember, when it comes to cholesterol, you need both the bad and the good! 


Points to Remember

  • Your body needs ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol.
  • LDLs can cause buildup in your arteries.
  • Exercising can help you control your cholesterol.
  • Healthy fats and soluble fiber help to keep cholesterol at healthy levels.





Hope Through Research—You can be Part of the Answer!

Many research studies are underway to help us learn about cholesterol. Would you like to find out more about being part of this exciting research? Please visit the following links:

This article originally appeared in Chow Line, a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission.

For more information:

Go to the Diet and Nutrition health topic.