"Cholesterol is bad", "Keep your cholesterol low"...we all heard this right? But what is cholesterol? Why is it bad? And especially, is it always bad?

Cholesterol is a blood fat that is produced mostly by our body and in small part by the foods that we eat, and is responsible for several important functions in the body.

It is involved in the digestion process, thanks to the formation of bile, and in the production of vitamin D, which is useful for bone health.

It promotes the construction of the cell wall, especially of the nervous system. It also allows for the formation of hormones such as testosterone and estrogen.

Cholesterol, however, is not all the same. In fact we can distinguish between:

  • LDL Cholesterol, so-called "bad" because it is deposited in the walls of the arteries, obstructing the blood flow and increasing the risk factor for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke)
  • HDL Cholesterol, "good", which does not cause any damage to the arteries. Actually, removing cholesterol from the walls of the vessels to transport it to the liver is a guarantee of protection, if present in good quantity
What is Cholesterol

The increase in cholesterol is not a concern only of adults, but it can occur, especially for genetic reasons, even in children (the so-called familial hypercholesterolemia, which has one case per 500 inhabitants).

Which Foods Contain Cholesterol?

Your very next question after What is Cholesterol is probably going to be Which Foods Contain Cholesterol, because I said above that diet plays an important role right?

Before I forget, let me say that also our lifestyle may affect the cholesterol levels in our body.

Cholesterol is present in foods in very different amounts: some are particularly rich while others do not contain any.

Here some foods that contain high amount:

  • Fats of animal origin
  • Butter
  • Cream
  • Lard

And some that contain average amount:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Milk
  • Cheese

These common foods are instead basically cholesterol free:

  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Fruits

To be safe though, it is not sufficient, however, to include or exclude a particular food from our diet.

Different recipes contain different amounts of cholesterol in relation to the ingredients that compose it.

So a plate of pasta is almost cholesterol free if it is topped with vegetables or fresh tomato; different is the case of a more elaborate recipe with enriched sauces, cheese or butter, ground beef (ragu) etc.

As an advice, remember to check the labels of the products that claim to be low in fat. It's not guaranteed that those foods have low cholesterol.

What is Cholesterol Normal Level?

Many studies have shown that high amounts of cholesterol in the blood can be an important risk factor for the onset of cardiovascular disease: heart attacks and strokes, for example.

Cholesterol in Blood

In general, the lower the levels of cholesterol the lower the risk.

It is also important to check - and this is part of our doctor's job - if the same patient has other risk factors such as particularly high blood pressure or diabetes: in this case, it's even more important to reduce cholesterol levels.

Anyway, these values are generally recommended:

  • Total cholesterol: less than 200-220 mg/dl
  • HDL Cholesterol: greater than 40 mg/dl in men and 50 mg/dl in women
  • LDL Cholesterol: less than 160 mg/dl in patients at low risk, less than 115 mg/dl in patients at moderate risk, less than 100 mg/dl in high-risk patients and less than 70 mg/dl in patients at very high risk
  • Triglycerides: less than 150mg/dl

These values are obtained from a blood sample taken after 12 hours of fasting.

Your doctor will determine, based on the assessment of a risk of cardiovascular events, the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides that you are supposed to achieve through modification of lifestyle and/or pharmacological treatment.

What is Cholesterol Affected By and How to Reduce it?

Well since the quantity of cholesterol in our blood depends on the diet, the first rule is to reduce the consumption of those foods that contain it.

I always recommend to find a good dietologist for these types of diet that go beyond fat loss or weight gain.

But generally the basic rules are:

  • Avoid foods and meals containing butter and margarine
  • Get rid of visible fat from the meat
  • Reduce cheese (especially aged, rich in fats)
  • No processed foods
  • Limit the consumption of eggs and red meat, and rather prefer fish (rich in omega-3 which eliminates cholesterol)
  • Drink skimmed milk instead of whole milk

Note that no specific restrictions need to be applied to pasta, rice (when dressed with "lean" sauces), fruit and vegetables.


Beside diet, what is cholesterol affected by? Physical activity, so the other important rule is to exercise regularly.

The best physical activities to fight bad cholesterol are:

  • Running/jogging
  • Swimming
  • Biking

Just pick one that you like and stick to it, meaning that you should exercise for about 30 min three times a week...otherwise where is the "regular" physical activity?

By the way, you may want to find out how to lower cholesterol naturally.


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