The Difference Between ‘Good’ And ‘Bad’ Cholesterol - Men's Health Magazine Australia

The Difference Between ‘Good’ And ‘Bad’ Cholesterol

A Nutritionist unpacks a commonly misinformed area of nutritional health: your cholesterol.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body needs for optimal health, but in the right amounts. Unhealthy levels of cholesterol can lead to a condition called high blood cholesterol.

So what’s the key to understanding cholesterol and maintaining an optimal level? Well, understanding the difference between LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol along with the role of triglycerides; a type of fat (lipid) in the blood, is a great way to start.


Higher than normal triglyceride levels have been found to increase the risk of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries or thickening of the artery walls) as well as type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and heart disease.

• High-density lipoprotein, or HDL is known as the “good cholesterol” and helps to remove this build up of LDL cholesterol from your body. Specifically, HDL cholesterol plaque buildup from the arteries to the liver, so it can be flushed out of the body. Higher levels are better and men should aim for an HDL level of 45mg/dL or higher.

• Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL also known as “bad cholesterol” causes fatty deposits (plaque) to build up in the arteries. 

Triglycerides and cholesterol are both created in the liver. However, triglycerides are the storage form of unused fat calories while cholesterol is carried on lipoproteins in the blood. Lipoproteins are made of fat and protein, and serve as vehicles for your cholesterol to travel through the blood to produce hormones, build cells, and generate vitamin D. 

Lipid panel

A lipoprotein panel, also called a lipid panel or lipid profile, measures the levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. Here’s what the lipid panel will measure: 

• Total cholesterol
• HDL (good) cholesterol
• LDL (bad) cholesterol
• Triglycerides

Foods to avoid

What foods contribute to unhealthy blood cholesterol levels? Aside from a lack of exercise, there are certain foods such as those high in trans fats (deep-fried foods, potato chips) and poor quality saturated fats including processed meat (fast food, processed meats like salami and sausages).

Below are a few of the processed foods to avoid when looking to maintain a healthy lipid profile: 

• Refined carbs/grains: enriched white flours used in white bread, pasta, instant noodles
• Refined sugar and sweeteners: soda, diet soda, candy bars, granola bars, store-bought cookies, cakes, donuts
Trans fats–hydrogenated vegetable oils: margarine, potato chips, pretzels, store-bought crackers, and processed cheese, microwave popcorn, microwaveable/frozen dinners
• Processed meat: such as those that have been cured, seasoned, and heavily processed including hot dogs, salami, and cured bacon, vegan meat alternatives.

What you can do

The best way to maintain a healthy lipid profile is to consistently maintain a healthy eating pattern, stay hydrated with water (and avoid excess alcohol consumption), exercise regularly (at least 30 minutes of daily), and regularly obtain quality sleep. Studies have found increasing cardio exercise through the week (swimming, biking, HIIT training, walking, jogging) to have positive benefits for total cholesterol (increase HDL, lower LDL).

Cardio workouts usually utilise a number of fast-paced, plyometric movements which are known to help boost fat metabolism and fat loss at a faster rate than steady-state aerobic exercise. Therefore, if resistance or strength workouts are commonly your go-to focus in training, it might be a good idea to start incorporating at least 2-3 cardio workouts into your week. These cardio workouts could be anything from a brisk walk, a few KM’s on an exercise bike or an F45 workout such as Docklands or Abacus. This cardio will be beneficial for overall cardiovascular health (cardio/high intensity training helps to mobilise triglycerides and lower LDL in the blood overtime). 

Foods to try

Nutritionally speaking, in order to maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels it’s important to be mindful about food choices when eating out and while grocery shopping.

Avoid deep-fried foods and refined grains and instead opt for sustainable seafood like wild-caught salmon, albacore tuna, and white fish like halibut or snapper as well as plant-based proteins including lentils and beans. It’s also important to increase your intake of unsaturated, plant-based fats such as avocados, nuts and seeds (pecans and flaxseeds) in addition to cooking with quality extra-virgin olive oil (as opposed to processed oils like canola oil).

Regular consumption of fiber-rich foods including fresh fruits, vegetables, and wholegrains (oats, quinoa, ezekiel bread) is also essential for improving blood cholesterol because these foods are a rich source of dietary fiber. Soluble fiber is found in a number of whole foods including peas, beans, apples, and carrots—it helps your body trap LDL cholesterol to prevent it from reuptake into the bloodstream. 

Utilise the F45 Challenge Mobile App to browse heart-healthy, cholesterol-friendly recipes. The F45 Challenge Mobile App has a variety of healthy and delicious recipes that utilise quality ingredients and quality fats that support heart health and an optimal blood cholesterol. 

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