← All resources

The “Good” and “Bad” of Cholesterol and How to Keep Yours Low

Doctors in Conversation

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in every cell of your body. While cholesterol is needed to function,too much cholesterol can build up in your arteries and increase your risk for heart disease. More than 102 million Americans have total cholesterol above healthy levels.

Cholesterol screenings can measure your total cholesterol including LDL or “bad” cholesterol, HDL or “good” cholesterol, and triglycerides. Desirable cholesterol levels for most adults are listed below but it’s important to work with your doctor to define your individualized goals.

  • Total cholesterol – Less than 170 mg/dL
  • LDL (“bad” cholesterol) – Less than 110 mg/dL
  • HDL (“good” cholesterol) – 35mg/dL or higher
  • Triglycerides – Less than 150 mg/dL

The liver makes cholesterol, but you can also get cholesterol from the foods you eat. It is important to eat a balanced diet with whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein sources. 

  • Choose heart-healthy unsaturated fats and limit saturated fats and trans fats.
  • Limit refined carbohydrates especially sugar, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Eat more plant-based or vegetarian meals using beans and soy foods for protein.
  • Consume more fruits and vegetables, eat plenty of fiber and choose fish products high in Omega-3 fatty acids like tuna, salmon and mackerel. 
  • If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation: one serving per day for women and two servings per day for men. One serving is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

Regular exercise, weight loss, smoking cessation and medications can help lower your cholesterol and risk of heart disease. Alongside your trusted physician, you can evaluate your current cholesterol levels, create personalized goals and create a plan to achieve them.