Is HDL Cholesterol Good or Bad? Decoding the Facts

Parul Dube

December 8, 2022

Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance that comes from two sources: the animal-based foods you eat and your liver. It helps form cell membrane layers, produce vitamin D, make certain hormones, and help the liver synthesise bile for digestion.

Cholesterol and other fats circulating in your bloodstream as spherical particles are called lipoproteins. Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) and High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL) are the two most commonly known lipoproteins.

Not all cholesterol is bad since a healthy level of HDL can be heart-protective by carrying one-quarter to one-third of your total LDL back to the liver, where the LDL breaks down and gets excreted from the body.

Read more: Cholesterol Diet Plan – Types, Symptoms and Foods to Eat

Therefore, your HDL reading should ideally be between 45-60 mg/dl to reduce one’s risk of stroke, heart attack, and coronary artery diseases. However, pay heed that too much cholesterol is bad for you, be it HDL or LDL. 

What is HDL Cholesterol?

HDL, High-Density Lipoprotein or HDL-C, is the “good” cholesterol because it helps eliminate excess cholesterol in your body. It comprises a lipoprotein coat and cholesterol centre.

Read more: What is HDL Cholesterol? A Detailed Guide

HDL is a very complex particle with anti-inflammatory capacity and anti-atherosclerotic functions. LDL is the “bad” counterpart of HDL, which causes plaque buildup in arteries. Your total cholesterol refers to the total amount of LDL and HDL cholesterol in the blood. 

Normal HDL cholesterol levels in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) as per age and gender are as follows:

At riskDesirable
Anyone (19 or younger)More than 45 mg/dl
Men (aged 20 or over)Less than 40 mg/dL (1.0 mmol/L)60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) or above
Women (aged 20 or over)Less than 50 mg/dL (1.3 mmol/L)60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) or above

HDL cholesterol is most protective at around 40 to 59 mg/dL, and having an HDL-C level below 40 mg/dL is unhealthy. Your risk for heart disease and stroke increases with poor HDL cholesterol levels. Low HDL often develops due to unhealthy lifestyle habits, poor eating patterns, smoking, and lack of exercise.

A study shows that the quantity of HDL can change according to age, gender, puberty, middle-aged symptoms, diet, health issues, climacteric, and menopause. You can measure and monitor your cholesterol levels at the convenience of your home with the all-new HealthifyMe Metabolic Panel.

It’s a comprehensive and personalised testing kit that will enable you to understand your entire blood lipid profile amongst 85+ other parameters. A full lipid profile shows the actual levels of each type of fat in your blood, such as LDL, HDL, triglycerides, and others.

With just a drop of blood, the Metabolic Panel could find your potential predisposition to medical conditions, such as high LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol, diabetes, or hypertension. If you have poor HDL cholesterol levels, the real-time intervention from coaches will help you begin and build a corrective dietary and physical activity approach and plan.

HealthifyMe’s Metabolic Panel

It is a long-term initiative, meaning the test isn’t one time. You can do it every three months, which helps to measure your progress quarterly.

The tests available in the Metabolic Panel include thyroid function tests, kidney function tests, urine routine, iron study, hemogram, vitamin profile, lipid profile, liver function test, and diabetes screening.

All this metabolic information reaches your expert coaches and AI-powered nutritionist RIA. Their combined input helps with customising and modifying your lifestyle, so you can make smarter choices and take sustainable steps towards your health goals. 

The premium plans also offer a range of weight loss diet and fitness plans per your requirements. If you’re unsure about where to start, HealthifyMe offers trial subscriptions. You can now directly connect with one of the health coaches through WhatsApp to start a conversation regarding a best-suited plan for your goals and provide further details on the available plans and prices. 

Is HDL Cholesterol Good or Bad?

A common belief about cholesterol is that it is bad for your health. However, you may not know that HDL cholesterol in the right amounts promotes better health.

A study shows that higher high-density lipoprotein levels lower the chances of atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases. It is because HDL particles promote reverse cholesterol transport from peripheral cells. Moreover, HDL also possesses antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antithrombotic effects. 

Here are the significant roles of HDL cholesterol:

Reduce Inflammation

The anti-inflammatory ability of HDL reduces inflammation in the blood vessels and helps predict who is more likely to develop a heart attack or any other serious heart-related event. HDL stimulates the production of nitric oxide, a molecule that eases inflammation, helps artery walls relax, and prevents blood clot formation inside the arteries.

The amount of protection from HDL anti-inflammatory capacity is higher in women than in men. An interesting statistic shown by research is that for every 22% increase in HDL particles in endothelial cells, there is 23% less chances for anyone to have a cardiovascular event. 

Antioxidant Effects

HDL’s antioxidant effects protect against atherogenesis or the formation of fatty deposits in the arteries. The small, dense, protein-rich HDL particles reduce oxidative damage by free radicals and deliver potentially toxic proatherogenic lipids to the liver for excretion. However, metabolic and inflammatory diseases can damage the antioxidative function of HDL. 

Good for Diabetes Management

HDL appears to protect the beta cells of the pancreas from the toxic effects of glucose to enhance insulin secretion. HDL helps increase insulin activity in skeletal muscles for better glucose uptake. Boosting HDL will lower the risk of early renal impairment and a high inflammatory score in people with type 2 diabetes. It is because of the antioxidative activity and endothelial vasodilatory function of HDL. Therefore, having low HDL cholesterol levels increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. 

While high HDL cholesterol levels reduce cardiovascular events, having higher than optimal amounts may not provide additional cardiovascular benefits. HDL-C can even be harmful in extremely high quantities. In addition, a study noted that higher HDL cholesterol levels did not appear to offer equal benefits for all ethnicities. 

HDL cholesterol belongs to a family of different particles. Some types of HDL are indifferent to cholesterol or transfer cholesterol the wrong way. To further complicate matters, some HDL prevents oxygen from chemically altering LDL, making it extra harmful. Therefore, while HDL cholesterol is natural and essential, you must also consider some potentially hazardous variations.

The HealthifyMe Note

HDL cholesterol is good because it cleans out the built-up LDL cholesterol in the arteries. It protects your heart by reverse-transporting LDL from the artery to the liver for disposal. As evident, low HDL cholesterol levels cause a greater risk of heart attacks and may not provide cardiovascular benefits. 

Low HDL Cholesterol, Now What?

Everyone with poor HDL cholesterol can benefit from a heart-healthy lifestyle. However, your nutritionist can recommend additional support to manage your overall cholesterol levels, like a personalised diet, especially if your HDL cholesterol is low due to an unhealthy diet or in case of any pre-existing health issues. 

Cholesterol in foods also matters, but most people are unaware that foods high in dietary cholesterol are also super nutritious. For example, eggs are tasty, filling, protein-rich food but contain cholesterol, with two large eggs providing 372 mg.

Unfortunately, due to the misguided fear of the cholesterol in foods, people throw out the yolk, which is by far the most nutritious part of the egg. Therefore, having proper guidance from a nutritionist helps you make smarter, healthier, and more informed choices. 

For all the answers you want, for all the health tips you miss, and for all the advice you seek, HealthifyMe’s team of certified coaches can provide you with the most precise and relevant information.

HealthifyMe coaches will curate a diet and workout plan ideal for your lifestyle based on your calorie needs, food preferences, and activity level. If something is not working, you may modify your diet plan through chats and consultation calls with your assigned health coach. 

The Pro Plan or HealthifyMe SmartPlan also gives access to 24/7 AI nutritionists, daily and weekly insights to track your progress, macro or micronutrient tracking and healthy recipes. If poor glucose metabolism is a concerning factor for your cholesterol, HealthifyPro 2.0 comes with a continuous glucose monitor to check how your blood glucose levels change throughout the day. A CGM can immediately notify you and your coach if a particular food you ate is causing a drop or spike in your glucose levels. 


HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein, popularly known as “good cholesterol”. It sweeps LDL or bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) from the arteries to the liver for removal. Therefore, having a healthy level of HDL cholesterol, around 40 to 59 mg/dL, helps to prevent cholesterol build-up or plaques in the arteries. As a result, it reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke and blood clots. 

An HDL level above 60 mg/dL is high, while below 40 mg/dL is low. Most importantly, HDL levels higher than the recommended range might not offer extra protection. Instead, higher than-optimal amounts of HDL could trigger a heart attack or stroke. So, to achieve the right HDL level, reach out and seek help from Healthifyme’s panel of certified nutritionists.

About the Author

Parul holds a Masters of Medical Science in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and has worked across the globe from the U.K to New Zealand (NZ) gaining her License with the Health Professionals Council (HPC, UK) and the NZ Nutrition Council. From being a Gold medalist in Clinical Nutrition to being awarded an internship with World Health Organisation (WHO, Cairo, Egypt) and Contracts with CDC Parul has had a wide spectrum of work experiences. She is very passionate about Nutrition and Fitness and holds strong to her guiding mantras ‘ Move more’ and ‘Eat Food that your grandmother can recognize’!

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