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Heart Health: Know the Good and the Bad of Cholesterol

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Nearly one-third of adults in Hawaiʻi have high cholesterol. There are no signs or symptoms, and unhealthy cholesterol is a top risk factor for heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. It can be effectively managed by learning about both the good and the bad aspects. Routine screenings and a heart-healthy lifestyle will help reduce cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of cardiovascular issues.

What is Cholesterol?

The first thing that comes to mind for most people is the negative side of cholesterol. But, your body needs this waxy, fat-like substance to make new cells, vitamins, and hormones. Cholesterol is made in the liver and travels throughout your bloodstream. Too much cholesterol in the body can cause unhealthy levels and increases the risk to your health and heart.

There are two main types of cholesterol:

  • LDL (“the bad”): Low-Density Lipoprotein is known as bad cholesterol. It builds up in the arteries, which makes them hard and narrow and causes issues with blood circulating from the heart to the body. When you have your numbers checked, you want to have a low LDL.
  • HDL (“the good”): High-Density Lipoprotein is known as the “good” cholesterol. It picks up the extra cholesterol in your body and takes it back to the liver, where it is processed. You want to have a high HDL number, as a healthy level can help protect against cardiovascular issues. It is important to note that HDL cholesterol can only pick up a portion of the LDL cholesterol and not eliminate it. 

What are Your Numbers?

The most important part of cholesterol is to know your numbers. A quick and easy blood test at your doctor’s office will provide you with your LDL and HDL numbers. Knowing your cholesterol and living a heart-healthy lifestyle can go a long way to reduce your risk of cardiovascular issues.

How to Prevent the Bad Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is either from your liver, or it comes from animal-based foods. The best way to lower your LDL cholesterol is to limit the amount of animal fats consumed, including red meats and dairy products made with whole milk. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats, or those found in animal-based foods, to less than six percent of daily calories and minimizing the amount of trans fats, often found in processed foods. A heart-healthy diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, poultry, fish, and whole grains can help lower or prevent bad cholesterol. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important as obesity tends to increase LDL.

How to Boost the Good Cholesterol?

While eating a balanced diet, consider heart-healthy swaps or adding nutritional powerhouse ingredients. Unsaturated fats include avocados, vegetable oils such as olive oil, and nuts. Foods rich in Omega-3 fats and purple produce such as blueberries, blackberries, and red cabbage offer nutritional benefits. These may help manage LDL levels while increasing your HDL numbers.

Staying active with routine exercise will also help increase your body’s good cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week. Get moving by bicycling, walking, or swimming. Avoid smoking, and drink alcohol in moderation as these substances can lower your HDL.


1 https://hhsp.hawaii.gov/assets/pdf/Coordinated%20HHSP_FINAL_WEB.pdf

1 https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/prevention-and-treatment-of-high-cholesterol-hyperlipidemia

1 https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/prevention-and-treatment-of-high-cholesterol-hyperlipidemia

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