Busting the Myths About Cholesterol

Cholesterol has worn a badge of shame for many decades. New studies indicated that what we believe about fat and cholesterol isn’t accurate. We hope that this article will clarify the facts and reshape your understanding of cholesterol.

Cholesterol is found in every cell of the body and is essential for the natural function of the body. It has a waxy fat-like appearance and is oil-based which means it doesn’t mix with water-based blood. The blood acts as a vehicle to carry the cholesterol around in the body.

Cholesterol naturally made in the liver is called blood cholesterol. Cholesterol from saturated foods, like beef, poultry, eggs, and dairy products, is called dietary cholesterol.

Myth #1: Cholesterol Has No Function and Should Be as near to Zero as Possible

Cholesterol has four primary functions which the body cannot live without:

  • To make cell membranes
  • To produce vitamin D
  • To produce hormones like testosterone and estrogen
  • To make digestive bile acids in the intestine which are critical for fat metabolism

Myth #2: All Cholesterols Are Created Equal

There are two different kinds of cholesterol. One is good for the body, and the other is bad. Here is the difference:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): This type is called the “bad cholesterol” as it causes plaque build-up in the arteries, which increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL): This type is called the “good cholesterol.” HDL protects the arteries by lowering the amount of plaque in the bloodstream, having the opposite impact as LDL.

Myth #3: Cholesterol Levels Are Only Affected by What We Eat

It is true that food has an impact on our cholesterol levels, but you can follow a low-cholesterol diet and still have high cholesterol. Here is a list of other factors that can cause high cholesterol:

  • Consuming alcohol, meats, refined sugar, and dairy products on a regular basis
  • Underactive thyroid gland
  • Long-term kidney or liver problems
  • Diabetes
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Pregnancy or other conditions which increase the levels of female hormones
  • Certain medicinal drugs (i.e., birth control pills and hormone replacement)
  • Smoking
  • Family history of high cholesterol

Myth #4: All Fats Are Bad

There are good fats and bad fats. Our bodies need to consume fat as it is a primary source of energy. Fat also helps absorb vitamins and minerals, prohibits blood clotting and inflammation, and strengthens muscle movement.

Many low-fat and fat-free foods contain high amounts of salt and sugar to make up for the flavor and texture. High sugar will spike your insulin and triglyceride levels, and increase the risk of many diseases. Hence, low-fat and fat-free foods are not realistically good for you.

Know the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats and how they affect your body.

Healthy Fats

Unsaturated fats are good for your body and lower the risk of diseases. There are two broad categories: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats reduce harmful LDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides. They decrease blood pressure, help prevent heart disease and stroke, and may even decrease the risk of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Foods that contain unsaturated fats include plant oils (e.g. olive, canola, sunflower, flax, avocado, and peanut), avocados, omega-3 fatty acid foods like nuts and seeds (e.g. walnuts, and flax and chia seeds), and wild small fish like salmon and sardines. Caution must be taken with consuming fish today since they contain high level of mercury and other toxins which are harmful to the liver. The current recommendation is to have a maximum of 4 oz of wild small fish per week.

Unhealthy Fats

Trans fats is a byproduct from hydrogenation, a process which turns healthy oils into solids and gives it a longer shelf life. These fats are harmful and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other chronic diseases. They contribute to insulin resistance and the development of diabetes.

Foods containing trans fats include fast foods, processed foods, commercially baked goods, and margarine. These foods are detrimental to your health even in small quantities and should be avoided altogether.

In-Between

Saturated fats are not as harmful as trans fats, but should still be limited to less than 10% of the day’s total calories. This is equivalent to one serving per day.

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and in foods such as red meat, dairy products (i.e., milk, butter, cheese, cream, ice cream, and cottage cheese), poultry, and eggs.

Conclusion

We hope that you have a better understanding about cholesterol and fat. Should you still have any questions about the different kinds of cholesterol and what a healthy diet looks like, contact Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D.


This article was originally published at sfadvancedhealth.com and republished here with the permission from Payal Bhandari MD.