Heart Month Pop Quiz: Which is Better, HDL or LDL?

Quick—which type of cholesterol do you want more of, HDL or LDL?

Answer: HDL, or the “Happy” or “Healthy” type.

A lot of people can’t remember which type of cholesterol is the “good” one and which is the “bad” one, but it’s an important distinction. High cholesterol is one of the main culprits in heart disease, the leading killer of women in the US.

LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is the “bad” cholesterol that causes buildup and blockages in the arteries, which leads to heart attacks and strokes. The healthiest LDL level is less than 130 mg/dL.

HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is the “good” cholesterol that helps keep the “bad” LDL cholesterol from sticking to your arteries. You want a high HDL number (60 mg/dL or higher) to help lower your heart disease risk. Your ideal goal is a total cholesterol level (HDL+LDL combined) of less than 200 mg/dL.

As women move past menopause, their overall cholesterol level tends to rise. Estrogen levels prior to menopause raise HDL cholesterol; this benefit is lost after menopause. But there are things you can do to raise your HDL level and lower your bad LDL cholesterol: Lose weight, reduce foods with saturated fats in your diet, stop smoking, and exercise regularly. Medication may also be needed to lower your cholesterol levels.

Know your cholesterol levels and get tested every five years. Do it for your heart.