What’s the Difference between Good Cholesterol and Bad Cholesterol?

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shutterstock_58455565We’ve heard it hundreds of times: high cholesterol is bad. It’s a simple enough concept that becomes a bit more confusing when you consider that there are actually multiple types of cholesterol that act on your body in both positive and negative ways.

The Good and the Bad

The common idea that there is a “good” type of cholesterol and a “bad” type of cholesterol is slightly untrue. Inside your body, cholesterol is cholesterol. To be more accurate, you could say that there are “good” transporters of cholesterol and “bad” transporters of cholesterol. These are called lipoproteins and are responsible for the movement of cholesterol throughout your body.

The highly touted “good” transporters are called High Density Lipoproteins, or HDL. The “bad” are Low Density Lipoproteins, or LDL. The cholesterol contained in each is the same—the difference comes from how the lipoproteins affect your body.

Effects of Cholesterol

LDL carriers are the cause of many of the cardiovascular conditions associated with high cholesterol levels. These carriers tend to get stuck in the arterial passages and block them, forming a plaque that reduces blood flow and can lead to heart disease and stroke.

HDL has the opposite effect. These carriers remove the LDL buildup from the arteries and return it to the bloodstream, cleaning out your blood vessels and improving blood flow. Having high HDL levels is associated with better health in general.

Get More of the Good

The best way to improve cholesterol levels includes beginning a heart healthy diet that is low in simple carbohydrates and saturated fats. Dietary cholesterol does not increase your blood cholesterol levels, but it’s important to moderate your intake of foods that may increase your triglyceride and cholesterol levels to make sure you’re getting the right nutrition to support a healthy heart.