Think You Know Cholesterol? Here's A Few Facts That May Just Surprise You!

Hey guys!!  So I've had a BUSY January, and as I was sitting here with my delicious fat (& protein) filled coffee this morning, deciding on what I wanted to write about, I couldn't help but think about a workshop I put on last week. 

It was a FANTASTIC night all about teaching women how to eat balanced meals and I told a story that really resonated with a lot of the attendees.  It was all about how when I moved in with my now husband, waaaaay before I know ANYTHING about food or nutrition, I was really concerned about what he was eating for breakfast.  

At the time, every morning he had a homemade Egg McMuffin with a fried egg, fried bologna, cheese slice, and ketchup.  You know what I was worried about?  The egg!!!!  I told him that if he had an egg everyday his cholesterol would go through the roof and he'd have a heart attack!  So he had that very same sandwich every day (minus the egg) and I was convinced that was much much healthier and I was much happier. 

I can laugh about it now (and we both have at least 2 eggs a day with NO fried bologna), but the cholesterol myth still exists and it's one of the biggest concerns my clients have when I talk about how important fat is, and why they probably aren't eating enough.

So today's blog post is devoted to cholesterol and why you can stop being afraid of it, now that the bad science has been put to rest.

Before we jump into why society is wrong about cholesterol, let's make sure we're on the same page when it comes to what exactly cholesterol is.

Myth #1: “Cholesterol” is cholesterol

Cholesterol is just a molecule.  It's what it's BOUND TO while it's floating through your blood that's much more important than just how much of it there is overall.  In fact what it's combined with can have opposite effects on your arteries and heart. 

So cholesterol is just one component of a compound that floats around your blood.  These compounds contain cholesterol +  fats and special proteins called “lipoproteins”.  

They're grouped into two main categories: 

  1. HDL: High Density Lipoprotein (AKA “good” cholesterol) that “cleans up” some of those infamous “arterial plaques” and transports cholesterol back to the liver.
  2. LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein (AKA “bad” cholesterol) that transports cholesterol from the liver (and is the kind found to accumulate in arteries and become easily oxidized hence their “badness”).

And yes, it's even more complicated than this.  Each of these categories is further broken down into subcategories which can also be measured in a blood test.

So “cholesterol” isn't simply cholesterol because it has very different effects on your body depending on which other molecules it's bound to in your blood and what it is actually doing there.

Guess what can increase your HDL (aka good cholesterol)?  Fats!  Saturated fats and monounsaturated fats (you know, the ones you've been scared of eating because of their cholesterol effects) have been shown to increase the good stuff while not touching (or even lowering) the LDL or bad stuff.  

Myth #2: Cholesterol is bad

Cholesterol is absolutely necessary for your body to produce critical things like vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, your sex hormones (e.g. estrogen and testosterone), as well as bile to help you absorb dietary fats.  Not to mention that it's incorporated into the membranes of your cells.

Talk about an important molecule!

The overall amount of cholesterol in your blood (AKA “total cholesterol”) isn't nearly as important as how much of each kind you have in your blood.

While way too much LDL cholesterol as compared with HDL (the LDL:HDL ratio) may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease it is absolutely not the only thing to consider for heart health.

The bottom line?  You need cholesterol to live (that's why your liver makes it).  You just need the right ratio.  Like so many other factors when it comes to good health, it's all about balance!

Myth #3: Eating cholesterol increases your bad cholesterol

Most of the cholesterol in your blood is made by your liver.  It's actually not from the cholesterol you eat.  Why do you think cholesterol medications block an enzyme in your liver (HMG Co-A reductase, to be exact)?  'Cause that's where it's made!

What you eat still can affect how much cholesterol your liver produces.  After a cholesterol-rich meal your liver doesn't need to make as much, but that's about as far as food and cholesterol production go.

 

Myth #4: Your cholesterol should be as low as possible

As with almost everything in health and wellness there's a balance that needs to be maintained.  There are very few extremes that are going to serve you well.

People with too-low levels of cholesterol have increased risk of death from other non-heart-related issues like certain types of cancers, as well as suicide.

 

Myth #5: Drugs are the only way to get a good cholesterol balance

Don't start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.

And while drugs can certainly lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol they don't seem to be able to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol all that well.

Guess what does?

Nutrition and exercise, baby!

One of the most impactful ways to lower your cholesterol with diet is to eat lots of veggies and healthy fats.  I mean lots (you should aim for 7 or more servings of veggies every single day, especially the leafy green ones!).

You can (should?) also exercise, lose weight, stop smoking, and eat better quality fats.  That means fatty fish, avocados and olive oil.  Ditch those over-processed hydrogenated “trans” fats and you're good to go.  

Summary: 

Cholesterol is complicated.  Whole foods (especially fat & veggies) are your friend and are NOT going to negatively impact your cholesterol or your heart health.  

Bottom line?  Stop relegating eggs to treat status if you love them and for the love of everything holy, don't eat fried bologna for breakfast.

Xx Laura

P.S.  now that you're not afraid of cholesterol, maybe you want to up your healthy fat?  Check out my brand new (free) starter guide that does just that by clicking the link below and downloading your very own copy!  Xx