"Bad" Cholesterol Explained


Has your doctor ever told you to watch your cholesterol? If you’ve ever taken a blood test, chances are you’ve heard of cholesterol. We know it shouldn’t be high, but it’s good to understand the numbers and what they mean for your health.

Cholesterol is a type of lipid, or fat, that the body needs for cell structures, hormone production, and other vital body processes. The liver naturally produces cholesterol, so we don’t necessarily need to acquire it through diet.

However, most of us consume cholesterol through animal products, such as red meat and dairy products. Too much dietary cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease.

Types of Cholesterol

There are two main types of cholesterol— LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein). LDL is what we know as the “bad” cholesterol, whereas HDL is “good” cholesterol. High LDL levels lead to heart disease and increased blood pressure. HDL cholesterol has protective effects against heart disease and helps counteract the effects of LDL.

What’s a Normal LDL Range?

For the average, healthy population, an LDL-cholesterol level of 100–129 mg/dL is the target range. If you suffer from or are at an elevated risk of heart disease, your LDL should be lower than 100 mg/dL and lower than 70mg/dL in extreme risk cases. Other factors that impact your ideal LDL-cholesterol range are smoking, diabetes, and obesity. Anything above 160mg/dL is considered a high level of LDL.

How to Lower LDL

We can lower LDL cholesterol with a few lifestyle changes. Foods high in saturated fats, such as red meat, cheeses, and deli meats, generally are high in LDL. Limit saturated fats and replace them with healthy unsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel. Avoid trans fats at all costs, as these are the worst type of fat for heart health.

The U.S. banned food companies from including trans fats, but a small percentage is still accepted. Always check the nutrition labels!