“Good” Cholesterol: What Foods Contain It?

Why We Need Some Cholesterol

We need some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, bile acids (necessary for digesting fat), and the membranes that line our cells. Since a specific amount is needed for good health, the liver manufactures 2 ½ to 5 times as much as we eat.

The Cholesterol in Food Doesn’t Raise the Amount in Blood

The cholesterol that we eat doesn’t significantly impact the amount in the blood. The body compensates for what we eat by manufacturing more or less in the liver. Sometimes people ask, “What foods contain good cholesterol?” In fact, there is only one type of cholesterol in food.

“Good” and “Bad” Cholesterol

When someone uses the term “good cholesterol,” they refer to the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol in their blood. “Bad cholesterol” is the term used to describe low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. 

As LDL accumulates in the arteries, blood flow is restricted, and blood pressure increases. It is a myth that only very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) is dangerous. An increase in LDL, regardless of the size and density, increases the risk of heart disease.

If you have both high LDL and high HDL, you can’t be too confident that the HDL makes up for the elevated LDL. LDL has a much more substantial impact on heart disease risk. The higher the LDL, the earlier and more likely a person is to experience a heart attack or stroke, regardless of their HDL.  

The liver produces HDL to remove cholesterol from the cells and carry it back to the liver for recycling or disposal. This process explains how HDL prevents plaque buildup in the arteries, and why it is referred to as “good”. HDL also has anti-inflammatory properties that prevent arterial plaque from breaking apart and causing heart attacks.

This article, from Harvard Health Publishing, provides a comprehensive explanation of how cholesterol is produced in the body.

How Can I Decrease LDL and Increase HDL?

Lifestyle factors that decrease LDL and increase HDL are:

  • weight control
  • monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats
  • soluble dietary fiber
  • phytochemicals
  • moderate alcohol consumption
  • physical activity