When I try to explain to people that cholesterol is necessary for good health, sometimes I get blank stares. Most of the time, I purely get dismissed as someone who does not quite have all my apples in one basket.

But it's true! Your body needs a certain amount of cholesterol in order to be healthy. Of course, as with just about everything in this life, too much of a good thing can soon morph into a bad thing.

And so it is with cholesterol. But if your body did not have cholesterol, you could not survive. Below is just a small list of the amazing ways cholesterol goes to work for you every day, keeping you healthy!

The presence of cholesterol in your body:

• Directs the development of certain cells in a growing fetus.
• Is a portion of the membranes that protect each and every cell in your body.
• Is found in plentiful supply in your brain, which is mainly composed of fatty tissue. (Who knew?)
• Helps to create hormones, including testosterone and the adrenal hormone, cortisone.
• Is found in digestive juices, like bile.
• Is needed for the creation of vitamin D, manufactured when sun activates the fatty tissues just under your skin.
• Helps to build synapse, the vital structures through which your nerve cells send messages.

I told you that cholesterol was pretty darned important. And now you know just how vital it is!

Now we're talking, so let's look at the numbers. You'll never be able to gain a true understanding of the importance of cholesterol unless you understand how the medical community measures the substance.

Cholesterol, as well as other fats, is measured using a system called milligrams per deciliter. You'll find this more often noted in the abbreviation of mg / dL.

The chart below explains the parameters of cholesterol levels – total, LDL and HDL – as well as where these levels fall in terms of your health. Remember as you read this chart, you want your total and LDL levels low, but you really want high levels of HDL! Yes, sometimes this whole topic does get a bit confusing.

Cholesterol Level Guidelines

Total Cholesterol Level Level
Less than 180 mg / dL Optimal
Less than 200 mg / dL Desirable
200-239 mg / dL Borderline high
240 mg / dL High

LDL Cholesterol Level Description
Less than 100 mg / dL Optimal
100-129 mg / dL Near optimal
130-159 Borderline high
160-189 mg / dL High
190 mg / dL and above Very high

HDL Cholesterol Level Level
Less than 40 mg / dL Low
60 mg / dL and above High

Now that you have a clearer understanding of why we need cholesterol, and what the different cholesterol levels mean, the importance of a heart healthy diet should be coming into focus.