Dietary Cholesterol and Heart Health
Although cholesterol commonly comes along with negative connotations, it is often misunderstood. Our team of experts answer the common question, "Does cholesterol cause heart disease?"
"Should we, or should we not, avoid our beloved breakfast eggs?" That seems to be a common question wondered in the general population for heart protective measures. Although cholesterol comes with negative attachments, it is often misunderstood. Does cholesterol cause heart disease? We're cracking open the truth!
What is Cholesterol?
First and foremost, the body needs cholesterol. In fact, the body actually generates the waxy substance. The liver is primarily responsible for cholesterol production and helps facilitate its circulation throughout the body. Dietary cholesterol strictly comes from animal products and includes those infamous eggs, chicken, pork, beef, milk, yogurt, and cheese.
Cholesterol aids in the production of essential hormones, vitamin D, and bile. Cholesterol is unable to dissolve in the blood and requires a transporter, also known as a lipoprotein. Primarily, lipoproteins are broken down into LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol:
LDL Cholesterol: Known as the "bad" cholesterol related to its plaque build-up in excess amounts. Too much plaque on artery walls is often known as atherosclerosis, a condition in which arteries become hardened and clogged, and can result into a heart attack or stroke.
HDL Cholesterol: Known as the "good" cholesterol due to its ability to remove "bad" cholesterol from artery walls. HDL cholesterol takes LDL cholesterol to the liver where it can be broken down and further excreted from the body.
The body depends on the heart to pump oxygenated blood to all body cells and systems via healthy blood vessels. Essentially, lifestyle habits and certain conditions can compromise heart and vessel functions and result into cardiovascular (including the heart and blood vessels or vasculatures) disease. Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella-term that encompasses heart attack, stroke, hypertension, congestive heart failure, and further heart-related conditions.
Does Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease?
Unlike previously speculated, dietary cholesterol and heart disease risk are not instantly connected - cholesterol intake will not rapidly cause a heart attack. Most nutrition experts now commonly agree cholesterol can be consumed in modest amounts unless prescribed otherwise from a healthcare professional.
Instead of skipping out of and avoiding those morning eggs, there should be more attention drawn to the quality of fat. Since dietary fat comes in a variety of forms, each should not be treated the same. In addition to the misunderstanding of cholesterol, saturated fats have also raised questioning. It was previously thought there was a direct association between saturated fat and heart disease risk. However, countless research studies have shown inconsistency between the link. High intakes of trans fat, though, has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. Its intake appears to be harmful enough to provoke itself out of the food supply by the year 2018. Until trans fat is extinguished, straw away from hydrogenated oils and margarines and products prepared with them - especially prepackaged foods such as cookies, pies, chips, and crackers.
When you hear individuals discuss those "healthy" fats, unsaturated fats are more than likely being mentioned and comes in two forms: monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Additionally, PUFAs can be further broken down into omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Incorporating these PUFAs, especially omega-3's, into the diet has been recommended to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Protecting Your Heart
Good heart health has several factors but often coincides with one, total healthy lifestyle. Focus on fiber and nutrient-dense foods such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Though saturated fat can fit into a healthful diet, it does not signal a green light to eat tremendous amounts of butter and red meat. Furthermore, incorporate unsaturated fatty acids in the diet from nuts and seeds, avocados, and olive oil, etc. Consistent exercise, smoking cessation, and stress-reduction techniques are additional elements that contribute to overall heart health.