“Good” and “Bad” Cholesterol

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Q. I have heard that shrimp contain “good” cholesterol and I’m wondering what other foods contain “good” cholesterol and which ones have the “bad “cholesterol?

A. Actually, there are “good” and “bad” lipoprotein particles in your blood which carry cholesterol, but in food there is just cholesterol. HDL is sometimes called “good” cholesterol because when it is high in your blood, your risk of atherosclerotic heart disease goes down.

This is because HDL particles can remove excess cholesterol from the artery wall and bring it back to the liver for disposal. By contrast, LDL can end up in the artery wall and promote atherosclerosis, which leads to most heart attacks and strokes, and is sometimes referred to as “bad” cholesterol. Cholesterol found in shrimp, eggs, cheese or any other food tends to increase LDL so technically food only has “bad” cholesterol.1 Actually, there is some evidence that oxidized cholesterol, which is produced when milk and eggs are dried, is really bad cholesterol. This is because oxidized cholesterol appears to more readily promote atherosclerosis. Powdered milk and/or eggs are frequently found in commercial baked goods, cookie and cake mixes and the powdered mixes used to make some high protein shakes.


If your HDL or “good” cholesterol in your blood is low there are several things you can do to raise it. Lose weight, exercise, consume more low-glycemic index high-fiber foods like beans and lentils instead of refined carbohydrates2 and avoid excess polyunsaturated vegetable oils (ie. corn, safflower, soybean). Consuming a glass of wine or can of beer with dinner most nights will also increase HDL but not without some health risk.


Research has shown that consuming more olive oil or other high monounsaturated fats in place of mostly refined carbohydrates may increase HDL in the short-run. However, increased dietary fat may make you fatter in the long-run and this would lower HDL. Research has also shown that on high-carbohydrate diets HDL is more efficient at removing cholesterol from the arteries and bringing it back to the liver than on high fat diets. Therefore a small drop in HDL, when dietary fat is reduced, should be of little concern, especially if it is accompanied by an even larger drop in LDL.3,4


1. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 1999;19:2901-8.


2. Lancet 1999;353:1045-8


3. J Clin Invest 1990;85:144-51.


4. J Lipid Res 1997;38:2289-302

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