We hear often hear that too much cholesterol leads to heart disease. So all cholesterol is bad. Right? Well it's not quite that easy.

Early blood cholesterol tests reported total cholesterol values, mainly because they are the easiest and cheapest to measure. For some time it was generally thought that any high blood total cholesterol value was bad. But, as researchers began to understand more about how the body transports and uses cholesterol, it became clear that total cholesterol values were not telling the whole story.

Cholesterol and cholesterol containing molecules are carried through the blood in particles called lipoproteins. The lipoproteins are made up of protein and fat ( generally called lipids) and depending on their use in the body they are different densities. It is this difference in weight that allows medical researchers to separate the many blood lipoprotein fractions. The dense lipoproteins are called high density lipoproteins or HDL's ; low density lipoproteins or LDL's are less dense. As we have learned more about the uses of cholesterol in the body, it has become clear that cholesterol in the LDL's is more important in the formation of atheroscerotic plaques that can build up and restrict or even stop blood flow in the veins and arteries. This is "bad" cholesterol. You want to keep your low cholesterol low. Cholesterol in the HDL of the blood is being used for many of the important functions in the body and is less involved with plaque formation. Cholesterol in the HDL's is "good" cholesterol. You want to keep your HDL high.

The factors that effect the levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol in the blood are complex. It is now clear that any food that lowers LDL cholesterol or raises HDL cholesterol is what we should be looking for.