Hayley's Healthy Habits: Understanding Cholesterol

January 09, 2024

The following article was written by Hayley Jackson, DNP, MSN, FNP-BC. A board-certified family nurse practitioner, Hayley provides Express Care Services at Wood River Health. She is passionate about holistic patient-centered care, lifestyle medicine and women’s health.

Understanding Cholesterol

Have you or a loved one been told your cholesterol is high? Have you reviewed your labs only to find a bunch of numbers that seem overwhelming to interpret? Have you ever wondered, why does this all matter anyway? Allow me to explain!

When your healthcare provider orders a cholesterol panel, there are usually three components present in addition to total cholesterol: LDL, HDL, and triglycerides.

LDL or Low-Density Lipoprotein

This component of a cholesterol panel is typically called “bad cholesterol.” When high, this type can cause a fatty build up within arteries and can lead to coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is the condition that can increase one’s risk for heart attack and stroke. Foods that increase LDL include those that are from animal products such as cheese, milk, eggs, and meat. Plant foods do not contain any cholesterol—this is why your healthcare provider may encourage you to increase your fruit and veggie intake.

HDL or High-Density Lipoprotein

HDL is commonly called “good cholesterol.” This type of cholesterol partially cleans out the fatty build-up within the arteries and helps the body rid itself of the LDL. One can increase their HDL by staying physically active as per their healthcare provider’s recommendations.


This is technically not cholesterol but rather a form of fat that can also build up in one’s arteries when in excess. Foods and beverages that often increase triglycerides include fried or processed/fast foods, alcohol, and baked goods.

Interpreting Cholesterol

Every person has different risk factors, medical histories, and family histories. For this reason, cholesterol goals are individualized for each patient. However, an overarching goal is to keep LDL levels low, HDL levels high, and triglycerides within normal range.


As stated above, having abnormal cholesterol levels may increase your risk of having a serious medical event. For this reason, it is important to stay up to date with your medical visits and any blood work your healthcare provider may have ordered.