Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all the cells in your body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. Cholesterol is also found in foods from animal sources, such as egg yolks, meat, and cheese. If you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can combine with other substances in the blood to form plaque which sticks to the walls of your arteries.
In our bodies, cholesterol serves three main purposes:
- It aids in the production of sex hormones.
- It’s a building block for human tissues.
- It assists in bile production in the liver.
Myth: Cholesterol is BAD
Truth: Cholesterol is Necessary
There are two types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol to and from cells—low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
- HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein. It is called the “good” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver. Your liver then removes the cholesterol from your body. Your liver then removes the excess cholesterol from your body.
- LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein. It is called the “bad” cholesterol because a high LDL level can lead to the buildup of plaque in your arteries. There are two types of LDL cholesterol; fluffy and dense. Dense LDL is actually the one that is more harmful.
What causes high cholesterol?
The most common causes of high cholesterol are your genetics and living an unhealthy lifestyle. This can include:
- Unhealthy eating habits, such as eating lots of bad fats and sugar. Trans fat is in some fried and processed foods. Eating these fats can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol.
- Lack of physical activity, with lots of sitting and little exercise. This lowers your HDL (good) cholesterol.
- Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol, especially in women. It also raises your LDL cholesterol.
- Genetics play a bigger role in your cholesterol than your diet does, as your genetics impact how effectively your liver regulates cholesterol to a healthy level.
Myth: You Should Eat as Little Cholesterol as Possible
Truth: You Should Eat Good Quality Saturated Fats
Healthy, cholesterol-rich foods are actually good for your body. Good quality saturated fat is healthful, it can be found in some meats, fish, eggs & dairy products. Most of your cholesterol is produced from within the body, so foods with cholesterol aren’t likely to transform your body’s cholesterol levels. Therefore, eating cholesterol-rich foods may not affect the cholesterol that’s already in your bloodstream.
Focus on eating foods with good fats, and avoid foods with high levels of trans fats, which raise your LDL cholesterol and lower your HDL cholesterol. Foods with high levels of trans fats include:
- Sweet pastries, such as cake, donuts, and cookies
- Fried food
- Processed & packaged foods
- Fast foods
These foods may contribute to obesity, which can increase your risk of heart disease and other health conditions.
Foods with healthy fats that can lower LDL and raise your HDL cholesterol include:
- Olive oil
- Legumes and beans
- Fatty fish
- Whole grains
- Grass-fed meats
Myth: High Cholesterol Causes Heart Disease & Heart Attacks
Truth: Inflammation Causes Heart Disease & Heart Attacks
Multiple studies show that people with heart disease or those who experience heart attacks often have normal cholesterol levels. Rather, your triglycerides to HDL cholesterol ratio may play a role in increasing or decreasing your risk for heart disease.
More so than cholesterol, inflammation plays a bigger role in causing heart disease. When the lining of your arteries is injured, it becomes inflamed. With a repeated injury, LDL cholesterol can get trapped, creating a dangerous buildup that can turn into plaque. Inflammation is caused by sugar, poor diets, lack of exercise, lack of nutrients, & a stressful lifestyle.