What is Good Cholesterol vs. Bad Cholesterol?

by Amy Roper
(last updated August 23, 2013)

An important part of staying healthy is keeping track of your cholesterol level. Cholesterol is a waxy type of fat naturally produced by the body, and can also enter into the body through consumption of certain foods. Cholesterol is necessary to aid in body function, but sometimes we collect too much of the wrong kind of cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease and even death. While sometimes medication is necessary to control cholesterol levels, there are things you can do through diet and exercise to control your cholesterol levels. First, though, it is important to understand what cholesterol is.

Through a blood test administered by a healthcare professional, you can find your total cholesterol. The total is determined by how much bad cholesterol you have in proportion to good cholesterol, and when combined with your triglyceride count, can help you determine your cholesterol ratio.

One component of your cholesterol is your count of bad cholesterol, or LDL (Low-density Lipoprotein). These lipoproteins are more fat than protein, and do not digest the cholesterol as waste, but rather cause them to stick to artery walls. Over time, when too much LDL is circulating through the blood, it can attach to artery walls and create a hardened buildup called plaque. This in turn narrows arteries, which can lead to serious conditions such as heart attack or stroke. You want less than 100 mg/dL of LDL for optimum health.

The other component is good cholesterol, or HDL (high-density Lipoprotein). These lipoproteins are more protein than fat, and can carry cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver to be processed. Many experts think that not only can a high HDL count prevent plaque buildup, but can also make some progress in decreasing what has already built up. You want more than 60 mg/dL of HDL for optimum health.

Combining these numbers gives you your total cholesterol count: see your doctor for specifics of what to do about these numbers, whether it's increasing exercise, changing your nutrition, adding a medication, or nothing at all. You can generally decrease LDL cholesterol by avoiding animal products like meat and dairy, and you can increase HDL cholesterol through consuming foods like olive oil, avocados, and certain kinds of fish (such as salmon), as well as regularly exercising. After the age of twenty if your cholesterol level is good than you should have it checked every five years. If your levels are high that check with your doctor on how often your cholesterol should be checked.

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