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Explore the myths surrounding this popular health topic and learn how to restore and maintain healthy cholesterol.

Understanding the Two Types of Cholesterol

Our team of experts shed light on common misconceptions of cholesterol, including the link between dietary cholesterol and heart disease.


"What is the link between cholesterol and heart disease?" "What are the common types of cholesterol?" "Should we, or should we not, avoid our beloved breakfast eggs?"

These seem to be common questions wondered in the general population in regards to taking protective measures of the heart.

Although cholesterol comes with negative attachments, it is often misunderstood.

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the body’s cells and needed for a multitude of functions in the body

Cholesterol helps produce vitamin D and vital hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, aldosterone, and cortisone. It also helps produce bile, the greenish yellow secretion produced from the liver, which enhances the absorption of fats and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

The liver is primarily responsible for cholesterol production and helps facilitate its circulation throughout the body. Dietary cholesterol is sourced from animal products, including eggs, chicken, pork, beef, milk, yogurt, and cheese. Fruits, veggies, legumes, and other plant products are naturally cholesterol-free. 

Cholesterol is also fat-soluble, meaning it is unable to dissolve in the blood. To navigate throughout the blood, it requires a lipoprotein transporter that functions as a carrier vehicle.

All cholesterol is the same, but the lipoproteins vary. There are primarily two types of cholesterol lipoproteins, including low-density (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) lipoproteins.

LDL Cholesterol

Low-density (LDL) "bad" cholesterol related to its plaque build-up in excess amounts. Too much plaque on artery walls is often known as atherosclerosis, a condition in which arteries become hardened and clogged, and can result into a heart attack or stroke.

MedlinePlus recommends the lower the numbers the better in terms of LDL cholesterol. An optimal LDL range is a reading less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

HDL Cholesterol

Known as the "good" cholesterol due to its ability to remove "bad" cholesterol from artery walls. HDL cholesterol takes LDL cholesterol to the liver where it can be broken down and further excreted from the body.

WebMD warns HDL cholesterol levels less than 40 mg/dL is not good. A recommended HDL cholesterol level is 60 mg/dL or higher.

Does Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease?

Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella-term that encompasses heart attack, stroke, hypertension, congestive heart failure, and further heart-related conditions.

Unless prescribed otherwise from a healthcare professional, most nutrition experts agree cholesterol can be incorporated into a well-balanced diet.

There is additional evidence proving diets rich in trans fat, saturated fat, and sugar increase blood cholesterol rather than solely dietary cholesterol itself. The American Heart Association's (AHA) also recommends limiting saturated fat and trans fat to reduce blood cholesterol, along with swapping them out for healthier fat sources.

"Healthy" fat sources primarily include unsaturated fats, particularly monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Additionally, PUFAs can be further broken down into omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Incorporating these PUFAs, especially omega-3's, into the diet has been recommended to reduce the risk of heart disease.

So instead of skipping out of and avoiding those morning eggs entirely, also moderate the types of fat included in the diet, including with these tips:

• Straw away from hydrogenated oils and margarines and products prepared with them, especially prepackaged foods such as cookies, pies, chips, and crackers.

• Swap out butter with vegetable oils, including olive and canola oils.

• Aim for at least 2 servings of fatty fish weekly, including halibut, tuna, and salmon.

• Opt for leaner cuts of red meat, including sirloins and tenderloins. Grassfed beef also shows to offer more omega-3 fatty acids.

Protecting Your Heart

Good heart health has several factors but often coincides a comprehensive healthy lifestyle, including a heart-healthy diet, regular exercise, smoke cessation, and stress management:

• A Heart-Healthy Diet: A heart-healthy diet is essentially one composed of whole grains, fruits and veggies, lean and plant-based proteins, and healthy fat sources. Making heart-healthy meals includes loading up on produce, choosing fats wisely, adding whole grains, and monitoring salt intake.

• Regular Exercise: Exercise is inclusive to a number of health benefits, including supporting heart health. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends Participate in at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week, breaking down to 30 minutes of physical activity five out of the seven days.

• Smoke Cessation: Cigarettes are quite the threat and undeniably harmful to health – they increase the risk of lung disease and cancer and shave off precious years of life. In fact, the CDC reports overall mortality (or death) of smokers is three times higher among people who have never smoked. The primary causes of this excess mortality relates to health conditions linked to smoking, including diseases of the cardiovascular systems.

• Stress Management: In addition to wreaking havoc on mental health, chronic stress may increase the risk of heart disease. Though the link between stress and heart health is not so clear, researchers hypothesize individuals may turn to stress eating, alcohol, and other factors tied to heart disease. Manage stress with positive coping techniques, including with exercise, yoga, and meditation.

Given a multitude of factors that can influence LDL and HDL cholesterol levels, consult with a healthcare professional to devise a personal heart-healthy plan. Also discuss nutritional needs with a Registered Dietitian to ensure a balanced, heart-healthy eating pattern.

Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on January 29, 2015. Updated on March 15, 2019.


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