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Good vs. Bad Cholesterol – Is there really a difference

Feb 18, 2019
Ashley Ann Lawrie

Author: Riley Pearce
Social Media Director
Personal Trainer – Byward Market

For a long time we were told that cholesterol was bad for our heart health. It is what partially villainized eggs amongst the cardiac health community for many years.

With more research being done on this vital nutrient, we are now seeing a distinction between good and bad cholesterol. In fact, we have known for a long time that cholesterol is important to our health as it provides the rigidity to our cells that is essential for the health of our cells. But when it comes to good vs. bad cholesterol, what really is the difference?

HDL vs. LDL

When I was learning about good and bad cholesterol the best way to think about it was HDL was “Happy” cholesterol. HDL starts with H and so does happy. Then I just knew that LDL was the bad type.

HDL stands for high density lipoprotein, and LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein. The high density lipoproteins are actually made in the liver and act as a clean up crew in the blood vessels. When they are produced, they circulate the blood vessels looking for plaque and LDL to be transported back to the liver where they will be broken down and eliminated.

DIetary Cholesterol vs. Blood Cholesterol

Dietary cholesterol is obviously the cholesterol that you consume through your diet. You can get dietary cholesterol from animal sources like meat and organs, as well as animal byproducts like eggs and dairy foods, as well as shellfish.

Your body will produce more cholesterol naturally when you consume saturated and trans fats. These types of fats cause an increase in LDL, the bad cholesterol. It was recommended that we consume fewer fats because when there is a lot of LDL cholesterol circulating in the blood, it picks up other substances and sticks to the walls of the blood vessels creating partial, and sometimes complete, blockages.

What fats are good for cholesterol?

Polyunsaturated fats have actually been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol levels in the blood and lower blood triglyceride levels (free fat molecules in the blood). Some food sources of these fats include flax seeds, chia seeds, brazil nuts, walnuts, whole almonds, olive oil, butter, eggs, avocado, and firm tofu.

Other ways to boost good cholesterol

Decreasing your carbohydrate intake can improve your HDL concentration. In a study that split diabetic patients into 2 groups, one high carb-low fat diet group, and one low carb diet, both groups lost weight but the HDL increased in the low carb diet and the HDL decreased in the high carb diet. Meaning the more carbs we eat, the fewer defences we have against bad cholesterol accumulation in our blood vessels.

Purple produce has also been shown to increase HDL levels in the body – by up to 19%! That can make a huge difference in the life of someone who is at risk of cardiovascular disease. This is due to an antioxidant in purple produce that when supplemented in studies shows increases from 13% – 19% in blood HDL levels. Purple produce includes red cabbage, purple corn, eggplant, blueberries, and blackberries.

A somewhat controversial addition to your diet might be coconut oil. This is because coconut oil is high in saturated fats. Although this is true, studies have still shown that coconut oil actually increases HDL concentrations in the blood. This study compared coconut oil to soybean oil and actually showed a decrease in HDL in the group that consumed the soybean oil.

And, of course, exercise! All forms of exercise, low intensity, high intensity, weight training, and cardio have shown increases in HDL in individuals. The greatest increase in HDL was seen in high-intensity exercisers. If high-intensity isn’t your style, then that’s okay. All forms of exercise have shown improvements.

Focusing on the strategies and lifestyle choices that will increase your HDL will set you on a path to longevity and good heart health. Remember that HDL is the clean-up crew that gets rid of the bad cholesterol that only acts to clog up your arteries.

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