You know there is a bit of an over-emphasis (borderline obsession) about cholesterol, right? It's why everyone is eating boring, tasteless egg whites and avoiding the delicious, nutrient-dense yolk.
I feel sorry for these people. They are missing out on deliciousness!
Look cholesterol is not all bad. It just gets a bad rap. Did you know there is “good” cholesterol? Let me bust some common cholesterol myths right now starting with the myth that “cholesterol is cholesterol” because it's not.
Depending on which of its buddies cholesterol is floating through your blood with makes a massive difference. Not to mention the fact that cholesterol is essential to good health.
Yes, you read that right!
After I bust those myths I'll give you the goods on what healthy lifestyle choices you can make to increase that “good” cholesterol (because medicines don't seem to be able to do that but I will tell you what can!).
Myth #1: “Cholesterol” is cholesterol
While cholesterol is an actual molecule, what it is bound to while it's floating through your blood is what's more important than just how much of it there is overall. In fact, depending on what it's combined with can have opposite effects on your arteries and heart. Yes, the opposite!
So cholesterol is just one component of a compound that floats around your blood. These compounds contain cholesterol as well as fats and special proteins called “lipoproteins”.
They're grouped into two main categories:
● HDL: High-Density Lipoprotein (AKA “good” cholesterol) that “cleans up” some of those infamous “arterial plaques” and transports cholesterol back to the liver.
● LDL: Low-Density Lipoprotein (AKA “bad” cholesterol) that transports cholesterol from the liver (and is the kind found to accumulate in arteries and become easily oxidized hence their “badness”).
And yes, it's even more complicated than this. Each of these categories is further broken down into subcategories which can also be measured in a blood test.
So “cholesterol” isn't simply cholesterol because it has very different effects on your body depending on which other molecules it's bound to in your blood and what it is actually doing there.
Myth #2: Cholesterol is bad
Cholesterol is absolutely necessary for your body to produce critical things like vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, your sex hormones (e.g. estrogen and testosterone), as well as bile, to help you absorb dietary fats. Not to mention that it's incorporated into the membranes of your cells.
Talk about an important molecule!
The overall amount of cholesterol in your blood (AKA “total cholesterol”) isn't nearly as important as how much of each kind you have in your blood.
While way too much LDL cholesterol as compared with HDL (the LDL:HDL ratio) may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease it is absolutely not the only thing to consider for heart health.
Myth #3: Eating cholesterol increases your bad cholesterol
Most of the cholesterol in your blood is made by your liver. It's actually not from the cholesterol you eat. Why do you think cholesterol medications block an enzyme in your liver (HMG Co-A reductase, to be exact)? 'Cause that's where it's made!
What you eat still can affect how much cholesterol your liver produces. After a cholesterol-rich meal, your liver doesn't need to make as much.
Myth #4: Your cholesterol should be as low as possible
As with almost everything in health and wellness, there's a balance that needs to be maintained. There are very few extremes (diets, cutting out food groups, 5x/week workouts) that are going to serve you well.
People with too-low levels of cholesterol have an increased risk of death from other non-heart-related issues like certain types of cancers, as well as suicide.
Myth #5: Drugs are the only way to get a good cholesterol balance
Don't start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.
And while drugs can certainly lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol they don't seem to be able to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol all that well.
Guess what does?
Nutrition and exercise, baby!
One of the most impactful ways to lower your cholesterol with diet is to eat lots of fruits and veggies. I mean lots, say up to 10 servings a day. Every day.
Don't worry the recipe below should help you add at least another salad to your day.
You can (should?) also exercise, lose weight, stop smoking, and eat better quality fats. That means fatty fish, avocados and olive oil. Ditch those over-processed hydrogenated “trans” fats.
The science of cholesterol and heart health is complicated and we're learning more every day. You may not need to be as afraid of it as you are. And there is a lot you can do from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective to improve your cholesterol level.
Now go eat some whole eggs my friend!
I am a wife, mom, grandma & former professional “diet and exercise hopper" who understands the challenges of being 40lb overweight after having children & the damage repeated sense of failure can cause to your confidence and self-esteem.