Good and bad cholesterol explained

August 21, 2019 7:44 am Published by Leave your thoughts

You might have come across the terms ‘good cholesterol’ and ‘bad cholesterol’ – sometimes referred to by the acronyms HDL and LDL. We’ve used them ourselves in our blogs and product descriptions – but what do they really mean?

First of all, we need to know what ‘cholesterol’ in general is. It’s a fatty substance known as a ‘lipid’ and it’s vital for the normal functioning of the body. If we didn’t have plenty of cholesterol in our bodies, we’d be in a bad way! It’s mainly made by our livers, but can also be found in some foods.

Is this good or bad cholesterol?

Cholesterol moves through our bodies on proteins called ‘lipoproteins’.  There are two types of these: ‘low-density lipoproteins’ (LDLs) and ‘high-density lipoproteins’ (HDL). The two work in different ways. LDLs carry cholesterol to our cells (which is good – they need it). If there’s too much cholesterol for the cells to use, however, the excess is deposited as plaque on the walls of our arteries. The plaque narrows the blood vessels, blocking the smooth flow of blood to the heart and other organs and translating into a higher risk of blood clots, strokes and heart disease.

HDLs, meanwhile, work in the other direction. They carry cholesterol away from our cells and back to the liver, which then flushes it out of our bodies. For low cholesterol levels, and a decreased risk of heart disease and strokes, we need more HDLs. Modern tests can indicate how much of each type of cholesterol we have.

How do you keep your bad cholesterol levels low?

Traditionally, there’s been a lot of emphasis on what you shouldn’t eat, if you want to enjoy low LDL cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are generally singled out as the culprit, including things like butter, cheese, meat and cream. It’s not all diet, though – smoking is a major contributor to the problem, as is a general lack of exercise.

Recently, there’s been a more of a move to emphasise that it’s what you do eat, as much as what you don’t, that has an impact on your cholesterol levels. Focusing on eating a good diet, rather than avoiding a bad diet, is a much more positive message. And it’s good news for Naturally Good Food, because we sell the best diet in the world! Let’s take a look at just what’s recommended for a cholesterol-busting diet.

Good fats

For healthy cholesterol levels, it’s generally agreed that you need to replace some of the saturated fats in your diet with unsaturated fats. That means cutting back on fats like butter and lard and substituting plant-based oils.

If you’re doing this, make sure you choose the very best plant-based oils. It’s in the extra-virgin, first-cold-pressed oils that you’ll find the highest quantities of healthy, cholesterol-lowering nutrients. We sell a fantastic range of cold-pressed oils at Naturally Good Food, including olive oils, sunflower oils and rapeseed oils for basic cooking, as well as a host of nut and seed oils, like hemp oil, avocado oil and peanut oil.

(Incidentally, for those who can’t do without their avocados – whole or as an oil – you’ll be pleased to see that as a rich source of monounsaturated fats, they fall into the ‘good fats’ category.)

Our blog Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated – which is best? takes a look at the whole ‘unsaturated versus saturated fats’ issue.

Oats, barley and other grains

When you’re looking at grains in your diet, the important thing is to make sure they’re high in fibre. Make sure you choose from the ‘wholewheat’, ‘wholemeal’ or ‘wholegrain’ categories, so that the grain contains as much of the outer bran, husk and germ as possible. Fibre is vital for healthy cholesterol levels: in our digestive systems, it binds with cholesterol particles and moves them out of our bodies before they’re absorbed, thus reducing the levels of LDL.

Oats are fibre-rich, containing a particular type of soluble fibre called beta-glucan. We sell porridge and jumbo oats, standard and gluten-free, in a number of sizes at Naturally Good Food – click here to see them all. Barley, likewise, is rich in beta-glucans and therefore a great high-fibre food


For your own sake, choose organic.

Pulses are another important fibre-rich element of a diet. We’ve got an amazing range of dried and tinned peas, chickpeas, lentils and beans at Naturally Good Food. As a low-fat source of protein, they’re also ideal for replacing at least some of the saturated-fat animal protein in your diet.

Fruit and veg

Fresh fruit and vegetables are, of course, a vital part of any healthy diet, including a high-fibre diet. Some fruit and veg are especially rich in a type of fibre called pectin: you’ll find this in good quantities in fruit like apples, grapes, oranges and strawberries and in vegetables like carrots and potatoes.

Don’t ignore the darker, leafier vegetables, either. Eating these is thought to lower cholesterol levels as their fibre binds to ‘bile acids’, leading to us excreting more LDLs.

Dark chocolate and tea

There’s a fair amount of research indicating that a nice sit down with a cup of tea and a square of dark chocolate can do wonders for your health (though there are also dissenting voices!). Dark chocolate, thanks to its flavonoids, is thought to be able to lower the level of LDLs and raise HDL, so long as you choose a variety with a high cocoa and low sugar content.

And your cuppa? Green tea is often promoted as the best here, but recent research has indicated that a whole range of teas may have benefits.


It’s a great idea to build more nuts into your diet: they’re rich in monounsaturated fats and have plenty of fibre and non-meat protein. Nuts also contain phytosterols, plant compounds that are structurally similar to cholesterol and thus help lower levels of LDLs by blocking their absorption in our intestines (almonds and walnuts are frequently singled out as particularly good options). We have more nuts than an army of squirrels at Naturally Good Food – if you won’t always have a bag to hand at home, keep a nut butter or two in your store-cupboard instead.

Oily fish

Oily fish, like salmon and mackerel, are excellent sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, bolstering heart health by increasing HDL cholesterol and lowering inflammation. We stock fish from Fish4Ever, which sources its fish from sustainable fisheries worldwide.

Soya products

Soya products are made from soya beans, so technically belong in our section on pulses above. However, we thought we’d give them their own section, as they’re such a handy low-fat substitute for meat and therefore highly recommended for lowering cholesterol. We sell a huge variety of soya productsclick here to view them all.

Reach out for a new way of eating

Lowering cholesterol isn’t all about giving things up. It’s also about reaching out for a new way of eating, using wonderful ingredients and trying out new recipes. Unlike our weight, our cholesterol levels aren’t something we can visibly identify in our own homes. But if we maintain a healthy diet, we’ll have done as much as we can to ensure that our HDL and LDL levels are just where they should be.

Naturally Good Reads v2


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This post was written by Yzanne

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