The Top 5 Cholesterol Myths
Although high cholesterol needs to be taken seriously, the truths of cholesterol are often misunderstood and flawed. Learn all about cholesterol and cut the ties of its associated myths!
People often think the words "high cholesterol" comes with flashing, red hazard lights.
Although high cholesterol may need to be warned with caution and taken seriously, elevated levels are not always indicative of poor health.
In fact, the truths of cholesterol are often misunderstood and flawed. Learn the truth and how to reduce cholesterol by making healthy lifestyle choices.
How Does Cholesterol Work?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the body’s cells and helps produce vitamin D and vital hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, aldosterone, and cortisone.
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.
Cholesterol is primarily produced by the liver and naturally soured animal products. Cholesterol cannot be dissolved into the blood. For that reason, lipoproteins (transporters made up of fat, or lipid, and protein) essentially act like cars to carry cholesterol in the blood.
Cholesterol is broken up into low-density (LDL) and high-density (HDL) lipoproteins:
• LDL Cholesterol: Also known as the "bad" cholesterol, LDL can contribute to plaque build-up on the artery walls. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), too much plaque can result in atherosclerosis, a condition when the blood arteries become clogged and stiffened, thus increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
• HDL Cholesterol: HDL cholesterol is known as the "good" cholesterol and essentially 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.
The table below is a concise description of the common cholesterol types and desirable levels of each.
Keeping cholesterol within the recommended ranges is important to not only facilitate vital functions in the body, but to lower the overall risk of heart disease.
Despite the benefit of cholesterol, there are common misconceptions regarding the nutrient, including these top 5 myths we are debunking.
Top 5 Cholesterol Myths Debunked
1. Eating Eggs Increases Cholesterol Levels
Given up those beloved breakfast eggs each morning? Perhaps the most common cholesterol myth is eating eggs inherently increases cholesterol levels.
Although it was once believed giving up cholesterol-containing eggs should be practiced to reduce cholesterol levels, the newest 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans sets no recommended target on cholesterol consumption, as saturated and trans fats and high-sugar diets are known to increase blood cholesterol rather than dietary cholesterol itself.
However, it is still important to monitor blood cholesterol levels and speak with your doctor and dietitian to identify a safe target based on individual nutrition needs and requirements.
2. Eating Cholesterol Results in Heart Disease
This compares to the belief described above. Like eggs, cholesterol-containing products have a seat in a nutritious diet without ongoing worry of poor heart health.
Besides, animal products also offers much more than cholesterol – iron in beef, calcium in milk, and zinc in shellfish. Like any food, it is important to stick to the concept of moderation and adhere to portion sizes.
The AHA's newly updated diet and lifestyle recommendations also suggest limiting saturated fat and trans fat to reduce blood cholesterol to lower the risk of heart disease.
3. A Low-Fat Diet Is the Best Kind of Diet
There is this general misconception that eating fat contributes to gaining body fat. Although it certainly can if choosing poor quality and consumed in excess, the body needs fat for day-to-day functions.
Dietary fat is needed in a well-balanced diet, particularly the healthier fats known as monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats do wonders for the body, including promoting a healthy metabolism, protecting vital organs, and lowering the risk of heart disease.
What's more, often commercially produced "low-fat" foods, such as low-fat dressings and yogurts, often contain excess sugar and additives.
It is also worthy to mention there are situations that may justify a low-fat diet. For instance, low-fat diets are often recommended to individuals managing or disease of the gallbladder or pancreas and other malabsorption conditions. Always speak with a doctor and dietitian to help determine dietary fat needs and recommended sources.
4. Medication Is the Only Way to Reduce Cholesterol
Despite effectiveness of cholesterol-lowering statins, medication is not the only way to reduce cholesterol. Truly, making lifestyle choices and changes can not only reduce cholesterol levels, but lower healthcare costs associated with reduced or absent medication prescriptions.
Diet is one of the most effective methods to reduce cholesterol, particularly when incorporating nutrient-dense foods such as whole grains, fruits and veggies, lean and plant-based proteins, milk and dairy products, and healthy fat sources. Regular exercise, smoke cessation, and stress management are always known cardio-protective measures.
5. Cholesterol Is Only of Concern During Middle Age
Cholesterol is important to consider throughout the entire lifespan, including in children. Monitoring cholesterol at a young age is especially essential if children are at risk for high cholesterol, including a family history.
The American Heart Association recommends all adults 20 and older have their cholesterol checked every four to six years, though also work with a doctor to determine risk for cardiovascular disease.
Ultimately, all can benefit from making healthy lifestyle choices to lower heart disease risk and improve overall health at any age.