Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Cholesterol…

By Laura Slatalla, Recent ASU Nutrition Student

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that plays a role in making hormones, and keeping your brain and skin healthy. It’s needed for digestion and cell membranes. It’s essential in your diet, but can get a little confusing because we have good and bad cholesterol.

We need lipoproteins to carry cholesterol through our bloodstream. There are high density lipoproteins (HDL), which move cholesterol to the liver to be removed, and low density lipoproteins (LDL), which don’t move through the arteries as well.

Why is bad cholesterol bad?

HDL cholesterol is actually considered the good cholesterol. LDL cholesterol starts to build up in our arteries, causing them to harden, but HDL cholesterol removes them, taking them to the liver where they can be broken down and removed. When your arteries harden you develop a condition called atherosclerosis, which blocks the flow of blood to your heart. The heart has to work harder to pump blood, and if it totally obstructs the flow it can cause a heart attack.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in men and women in the United States, but luckily we have some control over our cholesterol level and risk factors. We can raise our HDL levels and lower our LDL levels with diet, weight, and exercise.

How do I lower my LDL levels?

Because HDL cholesterol picks up the bad cholesterol and keeps it moving, eating plenty of foods that are higher in HDL is a lot of help, as well as lowering total saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet.

Physical activity also lowers your bad cholesterol, especially if you are picking up a new exercise routine after being inactive. While exercise is great, reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is really important for lowering cholesterol.

And if the increased risk for cancer wasn’t enough to make you quit smoking, keep in mind the benefits of quitting for your cholesterol and heart. Smoking makes it harder for you HDL’s to properly do their job and makes it easier for your arteries to clog.

Where do I get good cholesterol?

To boost your HDL levels choose unsaturated healthier fats from oils, fish, and plants. If no improvement is seen, add fiber rich foods like oatmeal, barley, and rice. Fiber binds to bile acids and removes them from the body, so the liver uses cholesterol to make more, lowering your cholesterol level.

Vertical photo of rolled oats in wooden spoon with rocks and wheat stalks on natural stone

Banana Oatmeal Bars

Here’s an easy recipe to get you excited about lowering your cholesterol! It’s really basic, so other ingredients can be added to make it your own. It makes a great snack or breakfast on the go and is kid friendly with no added sugar.


2 over ripe bananas

2 cups rolled oats

1 teaspoon of vanilla

¼ cup chopped walnuts

¼ cup raisins


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 9 inch pan with olive oil.
  2. Peel and mash the bananas until there are no clumps.
  3. Add the vanilla and stir.
  4. Add the oats and stir.
  5. Add the raisins and walnuts and stir.
  6. Pat into an even layer in the pan.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes.
  8. Let cool, cut into bars, and enjoy!
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