Is all cholesterol bad?

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Oct. 01, 2019

Can high cholesterol be good for you? In some instances – yes.

High levels of “good” cholesterol, called HDL (high-density lipoprotein), can lower the risk for heart disease and stroke by removing harmful cholesterol from the bloodstream. High levels of “bad” cholesterol, called LDL (low-density lipoprotein) can build up in the walls of blood vessels in the form of plaque. This raises the risk for heart disease and stroke.

Cholesterol can be confusing. Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association offer the following facts and misconceptions about cholesterol:

Myth: A person can “feel” if he or she has high cholesterol.

Fact: High cholesterol usually has no signs or symptoms. Therefore, people may not know they have unhealthy cholesterol levels until it is too late – when a heart attack or stroke occurs.

Myth: Eating foods with a lot of cholesterol will not make cholesterol levels go up.

Fact: Foods with a lot of cholesterol often are high in saturated fat, which can increase cholesterol. This includes red meat, butter, and cheese.

Myth: Nothing can be done to change cholesterol levels.

Fact: Many things can improve cholesterol levels. Limit foods high in saturated fats. Get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity each week and do not use tobacco products. Talk to your healthcare provider about cholesterol-lowering medications and know your family’s medical history.

Myth: Only overweight and obese people have high cholesterol.

Fact: People of any body type can have high cholesterol.

Myth: A person’s cholesterol level is a result of diet and physical activity level.

Fact: Diet and physical activity affect cholesterol, but are not the only factors. Some people are born with high cholesterol levels that they have inherited from their parents.

Myth: If the nutrition label shows no cholesterol, the food is heart-healthy.

Fact: Many “no cholesterol” or “low fat” foods are high in other types of “bad” fats, such as saturated and trans fats. Check the food label for saturated fat, trans fat, and total calories. Also, the serving size that those numbers are based on may be smaller than the entire package.

Myth: Children do not need to worry about cholesterol.

Fact: Children can have high cholesterol levels, just like adults.

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