HDL and LDL – The Good and the Bad (of Cholesterols)

What? There’s a good and bad cholesterol?

Cholesterol, the waxy substance found in the fats (lipids) of our blood stream is not the wholly despicable character it has always been portrayed to be, especially if your good cholesterol outweighs your bad cholesterol. Truth of the matter is, while you have to avoid the the LDL (Low Density Lipoproteins), your body needs an ample dose of HDL (High Density Lipoproteins) in order to stay healthy. These two, along with triglycerides ( a form of fat made in the body)  and LP(a) cholesterol (a genetic variation of the LDL that can contribute to the build up of fatty deposits), make up our total cholesterol count.

Spacefill model of the Cholesterol molecule
Spacefill model of the Cholesterol molecule (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What’s the difference between the good and the bad? 

Both LDL and HD are important – LDL brings cholesterol to the bloodstream to aid in the production of bile salts and hormones in the liver and in the distribution of fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamins A, D, E, and K through the bloodstream. LDL transports cholesterol to the blood. A high LDL level increases the risk of forming plaque deposits in the arteries and blood vessel walls that feed the heart and brain. Together with other substances, it can contribute to the build up of Plaque, which are hard fat deposits that can narrow the arteries, making them less flexible and will eventually  block the blood flow to the heart. This can then result to a heart attack or a stroke. This is why LDL is commonly referred  to as the “bad cholesterol.”

On the other hand, HDL  transports cholesterol and other lipids to the liver, away from the body cells, so it can be broken down and excreted. HDL cholesterol is often referred to as “good cholesterol” because it protects against heart disease by taking the bad cholesterol out of the blood and keeping it from building up in the arteries.

Both HDL and HDL are manufactured in the liver and do not come directly from any food sources.

How do I know if I have high levels of HDL and LDL?

Cholesterol levels should be checked at least once every five years for people over the age of 20 and an annual check is recommended for women over 45 and men over 35.  A lipoprotein profile is usually done wherein the levels of LDL, HDL and triglycerides are individually measured, aside from the total cholesterol count.

Total cholesterol is a composite measurement that includes LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and the other lipid components. Most physicians recommend that total cholesterol levels are less than 200 mg/dL. A triglyceride value less than 150 mg/dL is considered normal.  An LDL level below 100 mg/dL is ideal for people at risk for heart disease, and below 130 mg/dL is near ideal. The lower the LDL cholesterol level, the better it is for one’s health.

An HDL level of 60 mg/dL is optimal. Below 40 in men and below 50 in women are considered to be low levels of HDL.

How do I keep my bad cholesterol level down? To lower your LDL level, you will need to check your diet. Try the following suggestions:

  • Lower your total fat intake. Avoid intake of visible fat like those found in barbecued meat.
  • Explore other cooking methods. Instead of the usual frying, try steaming or grilling your food.
  • Choose veggies over meat. Cholesterol is only found in  animal products.
  • Limit your intake of trans-fat (common name for unsaturated fat with trans-isomer fatty acids) as this elevates your body’s LDL and lowers your HDL level. Trans fat is commonly found in fried and processed foods like chips and commercially produced bakery items
    like cookies, doughnuts, muffins and croissants.
  • Eat lots of fiber. Soluble fiber found in fruits, vegetables and whole grain cereals trap and excrete the excess cholesterol out of our body.

How do I increase my body’s good cholesterol?

  • Stay physically active. Physical activity triggers your liver to produce more HDL.
  • Quit smoking. Tobacco lowers HDL .
  • Say no to trans fat  and yes to mono unsaturated fats as they have been known to increase the body’s HDL. They’re abundant in canola and olive oils.
  • Consume more Omega 3 Fatty Acid as it increases HDL and  decreases the LDL.  It is also good for overall cardiovascular health, skin health, immune support, mental disorders, depression, ADD, ADHD, inflammation and joint health. This fat is found in all fish especially cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, tuna, bass, cod fish, blue fish. Certain processed foods are also fortified with this acid. Just check their nutritional contents.
  • Choose lean meats or substitute your protein source with soy based foods.
  • Keep a healthy weight. Besides improving your HDL levels, having the right weight reduces the risk of heart disease and other health conditions.


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