Cholesterol - The Good, Bad, And Ugly

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What is good cholesterol? What's bad cholesterol? How do I improve my levels of each?

• Health: Diet • Health: Exercise • Health: Food & Nutrition • Health: Medical

We all know that cholesterol is a major factor in our health but what is it? Why is it usually bad but sometimes good for us?

Cholesterol is a white and waxy substance that is only found in animals, not plants. It's part of the membrane that coats all our cells so our bodies require cholesterol. The good news is that our bodies manufacture all the cholesterol that we need. We don't need to look for it from outside sources like animal based foods.

The Good Cholesterol

Maybe you've heard of the so called "good cholesterol" before? That would be high density lipoprotein, which is called HDL. This is the good stuff you've heard about. Think of HDL as a cleaner that gathers up the bad (LDL) cholesterol and carries it back to the liver.

According to the Mayo Clinic, HDL levels in men should be at least 40 mg/dL and. For women they should be 50 mg/dL or higher. The desirable level for both would be 60 mg/dL or higher.

The best way to raise your HDL levels is to exercise! Working your way up to 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week can help boost HDL levels. Of course, your body will reap many benefits from that exercise too!

Foods that can help raise HDL levels include:

Try various nuts like almonds, pecans, peanuts, pistachios, walnuts, and hazelnuts.

Olive Oil
Try replacing butter with olive oil in recipes. Olive oil is high in unsaturated fat and can help elevate your HDL. Keep in mind that oil is still high in fat and calories so it's best used in small quantities.

While avocados are high in fat content, these little gems are healthy because they contain heart healthy fats. Slice it up and put on a sandwich or salad. Better yet, make some guacamole and dip veggies in it.

Fish like salmon, halibut, mackeral, and albacore tuna are a good source of unsaturated fats.

Fiber is a great way to increase the good HDL cholesterol levels in your body while reducing the bad LDL levels. Try adding rice, beans, oatmeal, and apples to your diet.

The Bad Cholesterol

The so called "bad" cholesterol is what most of us just think of as cholesterol in general. The medical name is low density lipoprotein or LDL.

The problem with LDL is that too much of it in your bloodstream can cause it to build up in your blood vessels. That build up is called plaque. When plaque builds up too much it slows your blood flow. Too much of that and blood flow can stop. Or, if some of that build up breaks off it can create a clog and stop blood flow that way.

Needless to say, this is all bad and the beginning of heart disease or a full on heart attack. These issues can lead to death or reduced health and a shorter life. Be sure to read more about Heart Attacks & Solutions.

So what's a proper level of LDL cholesterol? According to the National Institutes for Health (NIS), you want to keep your LDL levels below 100 mg/dL. Some of the more radical health professionals would even suggest that your LDL levels should be less than 80 mg/dL.

The Ugly Results

If you're cholesterol levels aren't kept in check your health can get pretty ugly. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. We generally believe cancer to be the number 1 killer in the USA, but heart disease has cancer beat.

Obviously, a smart diet and a bit of exercise can go along way towards reducing your bad cholesterol and increase your good cholesterol levels. If you choose to eat animal based products then extreme moderation is the key to improving your health. For many others, a plant only diet might be the best way to go.

Want to learn more about a healthy lifestyle? Then try A Healthy Lifestyle - Where Do You Start?, Are Processed Foods Bad For Your Health?, Choosing A Diet Of The Healthiest Vegetables, Eat Until 80% Full, Live Longer, and Finding The Right Balance For Optimal Health. Then maybe try Matt's Miracle Salad Recipe!

As always, be sure to seek medical advice as needed and to get your cholesterol levels checked.