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Explore the myths surrounding this popular health topic and learn how to restore and maintain healthy cholesterol.

Understanding Cholesterol

Cholesterol is more than just a component found in an egg yolk. We'll show you what it actually is, and how you can change your diet to positive effect.

Understanding Cholesterol

Once upon a time, dietary cholesterol was the ultimate villain. Fingers pointed to it as the causation of heart disease. 

When it came to the question "Which came first, the egg or high cholesterol?" the egg was shamed. However, the gears are shifted after new research regarding dietary cholesterol surfaced. 

So, does cholesterol in food really increase blood cholesterol? Let's take a look at it's complete story.

Part 1: What is Cholesterol After All?

Cholesterol is more than just a component found in an egg yolk. Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the body's cells. 

The body (especially the liver) and food sources (from animal sources) are the two providers of cholesterol. When more saturated and trans fats are consumed, the more cholesterol the liver produces.

Cholesterol cannot be dissolved into the blood. For that reason, lipoproteins (transporters made up of fat, or lipid, and protein) act like cars to carry cholesterol in the blood. 

Cholesterol is broken up into "good" and "bad" depending on what type of "car," or lipoprotein, is carrying it. The "bad" cholesterol, known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL), contributes to plaque build-up on the artery walls. Too much plaque can result in atherosclerosis, a condition when the blood arteries become clogged and stiffened. 

Ultimately, the risk of heart disease increases with the possibility of a heart attack or stroke. "Good" cholesterol, known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL), acts as a garbage truck; scavenging for LDL cholesterol and taking it back to the recycling center, or the liver. The liver is responsible for breaking down the LDL cholesterol and disposing it from the body.

Part 2: Cholesterol's Role in the Body

Unlike popular belief, the body actually needs cholesterol. But like all things the body needs, there needs to be balance. 

An imbalance of LDL and HDL cholesterol has been said to increase the risk of heart disease. When cholesterol is within normal limits, the risk of heart disease decreases while other cholesterol functions are able to function optimally. 

Cholesterol helps produce vital hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, aldosterone, and cortisone as well as vitamin D. Bile, the greenish yellow secretion produced from the liver, is also produced from cholesterol. Bile increases the absorption of fats and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K in the first part of the small of the intestine known as the duodenum. 

All-in-all, cholesterol within normal limits maintains and completes imperative body processes. Healthy cholesterol levels include: HDL cholesterol greater than 60 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL), LDL cholesterol lower than 100 mg/dL, and total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL.

Part 3: The Impact of Diet

Back to the egg... It was once believed eggs should be limited in the diet to reduce cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. However, new research suggests even one egg per day won't break the cholesterol bank. 

Instead, it is now believed saturated and trans fats increase blood cholesterol rather than dietary cholesterol itself. The American Heart Association's (AHA) newly updated diet and lifestyle recommendations suggest limiting saturated fat and trans fat to reduce blood cholesterol, specifically reducing saturated fat to no more than 5 to 6 percent of total calories. Based on 2,000 calories per day, that's about 11 to 13 grams of saturated fat. 

For healthy individuals AHA recommends limiting saturated fat to less than 7 percent of total daily calories, or 16 grams based on a 2,000 calorie diet. The majority of saturated fat sources are from animal products such as beef, lamb, pork, and dairy products produced from whole or 2 percent milk. Saturated fat-containing plant sources include coconut and coconut oil, palm and palm kernel oil, and cocoa butter. 

Filling the diet with monounsaturated (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) from vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, and fish can also help reduce heart disease.

Part 4: The Cracked Conclusion

When it really cracks down to it, eating eggs does fit into a well-balanced diet. Eggs are a significant source of high quality protein and contains healthful vitamins and minerals. 

So instead of skipping out on the scrambled eggs at breakfast, limit the amounts of saturated fat from a sausage patty. Ultimately, the implementation of MUFAs and PUFAs in place of saturated and trans fats can help improve blood cholesterol levels. 

Additional recommendations to reduce cholesterol levels include the consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, along with physical activity. 

Healthy cholesterol levels reduce the risk of heart disease while maintaining cell membrane integrity, hormone and vitamin D production, and fat digestion.


Know Your Fats. American Heart Association. Available at:

Sarah Asay's Photo
Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on February 19, 2016. Updated on August 06, 2019.


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