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Good vs. bad: what makes some cholesterol okay?

Most people know there is a distinction between “good” and “bad” cholesterol. But what makes some good and some bad? And which foods are okay to eat and which should be avoided?

“Good” cholesterol

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as “good” cholesterol. This is because HDL is believed to remove cholesterol from the blood.

When HDL levels in the blood are high, this is believed to reduce a person’s risk of coronary heart disease. The adverse effect occurs when HDL levels are low.

Because genetics play a role in cholesterol levels, what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. However, these foods have been known to reduce LDL levels:

• Foods with soluble fiber, which is known to reduce the absorption of cholesterol in intestines, reduce levels of LDL. Oatmeal, oat bran, cereals containing oats, kidney beans, apples and prunes are all high in soluble fiber.

• Fish that boast high levels of omega-3 fatty acids include mackerel, lake trout, salmon and albacore tuna. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce blood pressure and the risk of blood clots.

• Walnuts are known to significantly reduce blood cholesterol, and walnuts and almonds can both do wonders in as little as four weeks. However, be careful, as nuts are high in calories, which can lead to weight gain. Eating a handful per day will still help reduce cholesterol while keeping weight off as well.

“Bad” cholesterol

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is what’s known as “bad” cholesterol. Buildup of LDL in the arteries can increase a person’s risk of heart disease, while lowering that level is believed to lower a person’s risk of developing heart disease.

Though genetics play a role in cholesterol levels, diet plays a significant role as well. Regardless of family history, it’s always best to avoid these foods:

• Foods high in saturated fats should be avoided as much as possible. Saturated fat is a type of fat found in whole milk, eggs and meat. Other foods high in saturated fats include butter, ice cream and even cheese.

• Foods with trans fats are a double-edged sword, lowering HDL while raising LDL. Used to preserve food and give them a less greasy feel, foods with trans fats include french fries, crackers, cookies and doughnuts.

• While tobacco isn’t a food and therefore not eaten, it should, like saturated and trans fats, be avoided. That’s because smoking has been shown to increase levels of LDL and speed up a condition known as atherosclerosis, a buildup of cholesterol and other fat deposits along the artery wall.


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