Understanding Cholesterol Levels: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

When it comes to our diet and the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, the chemical compound known as cholesterol comes up quite often, and it should. We know now that increased cholesterol in our body has a very evident link to heart diseases. It can cause accumulation of plaque in our arteries, hampering blood flow. And if such a blockage happens in the arteries of the heart, it results in what is commonly known as a heart attack.

But things are not so simple, because all cholesterol cannot be grouped into a single umbrella and isn’t all bad for you. Cholesterol is actually a fat that’s produced by the liver and serves some important bodily functions. In this blog, we’ll help you understand the different types of cholesterol, their optimum levels, and what you should do to keep your cholesterol in check.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance that is produced by our liver. It has the following functions:

– It helps to build and maintain the walls of cells

– Aids in production of certain hormones

– Helps in production of bile

– Helps the body synthesise vitamin D

– It aids in metabolism of fat-soluble vitamins

– It insulates nerve fibres

Cholesterol, being a fat, cannot dissolve in water or blood. So, in order to help with its transport throughout the body, it is repackaged into what is termed lipoproteins. Some lipoproteins are large and light, like Low-Density Lipoproteins  (LDL), whereas some are small and heavy, like High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL).

Very Low-Density Lipoproteins (VLDL) are a third type of lipoproteins that include triglycerides. It is the sum total of these three lipoproteins that are termed as Total Cholesterol in the body.

Let us now understand which of these three types of cholesterol is good for you and which one is bad.

Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) – The Bad Cholesterol


Since our cells need cholesterol for the aforementioned processes, the function of Low Density Lipoproteins is to carry it from the liver where it is synthesised and into the bloodstream, where it can be absorbed by the cells. And herein lies the problem. If the blood contains too much of LDL, the cholesterol is extracted and deposited on the arterial walls, leading to accumulation and eventual blockages.

This is why LDL cholesterol is called the bad cholesterol, because it can directly lead to heart disease and it constitutes 60%-70% of total cholesterol.

The ideal level of LDL or bad cholesterol should be below 100 mg/dL. Thi can reduce the risk of heart disease considerably.

High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL) – The Good Cholesterol


Contrary to popular belief, not all cholesterol is bad for you. HDL cholesterol works in a way that is opposite to LDL cholesterol. It extracts cholesterol from the artery wells and brings it back to the liver, thereby decreasing LDL levels.

And hence it is termed as the good cholesterol, and a higher HDL means a lower risk of heart disease. It constitutes about 20% to 30% of total cholesterol.

The ideal HDL level should be greater than 40 mg/dL



Triglycerides are the third type of cholesterol that are packaged as Very-Low-Density Lipoproteins (VLDL). They are much more difficult to move from the blood vessels and hence can cause plaque accumulation in the arteries. A high triglyceride level is also a predisposition for heart disease.

Triglycerides should be under 150 mg/dL.

Now that you know the difference between good and bad cholesterol, here’s how you can ensure that you eat healthy and keep bad cholesterol at bay and improve your heart health.

Cholesterol Management With Diet


Your diet plays a huge role in maintaining cholesterol levels in your body. If you consume a high amount of saturated fats (present in butter, cheese, red meat etc), you may be putting yourself at risk of high LDL levels and potential heart issues. Reduce consumption of such fats and increase consumption of healthy fats like polyunsaturated fats (Omega-3) and monounsaturated fats (Olive oil, avocados). Here are 11 foods that help lower cholesterol in the blood.

Lowering Cholesterol With Exercise


Knowing which cholesterol is good for health and which cholesterol is bad and following a diet may not be entirely enough to keep your heart healthy. An inactive lifestyle is also a major concern for heart diseases. Therefore, apart from having a balanced diet, also get regular exercise and keep your body physically active to lower LDL cholesterol and increase the good HDL cholesterol.

To ensure that you’re getting the right amount of good cholesterol and limiting bad cholesterol, you can download the FITPASS app and not only find the best fitness studios near you, but also get your very own personal nutritionist with FITFEAST. Our expert dietician will curate the best heart healthy diet


  1. What are the differences between good and bad cholesterol?

HDL is called the good cholesterol because it removes LDL cholesterol from the arteries. LDL is called bad cholesterol because it is deposited in the arteries and is the leading cause of heart disease.

  1. How do cholesterol levels impact heart health?

High cholesterol levels can increase the accumulation of plaque in the arteries, leading to blockage in the vessels and the risk of heart disease.

  1. What are the best ways to maintain healthy cholesterol levels?

Eating a balanced diet, avoiding foods containing saturated fats and exercising regularly are the best ways to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.