If you’re trying to get in shape and lose weight, one of the things you’re probably looking to eliminate from your diet is cholesterol. However, did you know that there are different kinds of cholesterol, some of which are good for you? You may have bought into some cholesterol myths. Here are some surprising facts about cholesterol and why you shouldn’t just cut your cholesterol intake altogether.
Cholesterol Isn’t Actually All Bad
This may come as a surprise, but cholesterol is far from the evil molecule that the public has perceived it to be. In fact, it’s actually essential to life. According to DoctorOz.com:
It’s the parent molecule for all the major sex hormones, including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. It’s needed for the immune system, and it’s needed for the brain. (In fact, one of the most serious side effects of cholesterol-lowering medication is memory loss.)
Trying to prevent heart disease by eliminating cholesterol is like taking the lettuce off a hamburger. You’re targeting the wrong thing. Ideally, the target should be the patty, or in this case, sugar in your diet.
High Cholesterol Isn’t Just the Problem of the Elderly
Just because the symptoms of having too much bad cholesterol only manifest later in life doesn’t mean young people and children don’t have cholesterol problems. Health Communities says:
Plaque buildup in arteries begins in childhood and progresses into adulthood. The NIH recommends that all children receive a screening at age 10. If your child has heart disease risk factors, your doctor may suggest earlier screening.
So Is Cholesterol Good or Bad?
Actually, there’s both good and bad cholesterol. Web MD explains that:
Just as homemade oil-and-vinegar dressing separates into a watery pool with a fat-slick topping, so also would fats and cholesterol if they were dumped directly into the blood. To solve this dilemma, the body transports fat and cholesterol by coating them with a water-soluble ‘bubble’ of protein. This protein-fat bubble is called a lipoprotein.
* Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) carry cholesterol to the tissues. This is “bad” cholesterol, since high LDL levels are linked to increased risk for heart disease.
* High-density lipoproteins (HDLs) carry excess cholesterol back to the liver, which processes and excretes the cholesterol. HDLs are “good” cholesterol: The more HDL you have, the lower your risk for developing heart disease.
* HDLs and LDLs are found only in your blood, not in food.
High Cholesterol Isn’t the Best Predictor of Heart Disease
Keep in mind that high cholesterol alone isn’t the best indicator of heart disease. A better indicator would actually be the ratio of triglycerides to HDL. It’s even more accurate as a predictor than the HDL to LDL ratio. According to DoctorOz.com:
If, for example, your triglycerides are 100 and your HDL is 50 your ratio is 2. If, however, your triglycerides are 150 and your HDL is 30, your ratio is 5. A ratio of 2 or under is excellent. A ratio of 4 is considered high, with increased risk.
One Harvard study, published in the journal Circulation, showed that the people with the highest ratio of triglycerides to HDL had 16 times the risk of heart attack as those with the lowest ratio of triglycerides to HDL. In fact, the ratio of triglycerides to HDL was the strongest predictor of a heart attack, even more accurate than the LDL/HDL ratio.
Clogged Arteries Take on the Appearance of Butter
Now, we already know that LDLs are the bad cholesterol. As small injuries in the lining of the arteries become inflamed, LDL-B particles get trapped at these injury sites, increasing damage and inflammation and ultimately producing the plaque that clogs the arteries. But do you know how bad it can start to look? According to CNN:
Arteries thicken, become more rigid, and start to take on the yellow color of cholesterol. If you were able to take a look at the inside of cholesterol-clogged arteries, they would look as if they were lined with a thick layer of frozen butter!
How to Avoid LDL Buildup
Reducing the overall amount of fat you consume isn’t the smartest way of going about reducing your bad cholesterol, because it will also impact your good cholesterol levels, not to mention the fact that the body does actually require a bit of fat in order to function properly. A better way to reduce your LDL levels is to cut the saturated fat from your diet. According to Web MD:
Saturated fats increase your total cholesterol levels and are generally associated with an increased risk of heart disease. In general, the harder a fat, the more saturated it is. Beef and dairy fats are mostly saturated fats. Liquid oils are usually unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated fats in olive and canola oils and polyunsaturated fats in safflower, corn, soybean, and fish oils. Coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils are exceptions to the rule; these liquid vegetable oils are highly saturated fats.
Low Cholesterol Labels Are Misleading
This is my favorite fact about cholesterol. Remember those labels on a lot of the food products in the supermarket that say “low cholesterol”? Just because it’s marked as such doesn’t mean it’s better than an alternative that contains more cholesterol. Cleveland Clinic says:
A lot of foods marked “low cholesterol” contain oils that may be high in saturated fats and transfats, substances that research suggests may be as bad if not worse for you as cholesterol. Unsaturated fats, such as vegetable oils, are also high in calories.
Remember, all fats are high in calories – one gram of fat has 9 calories. Protein and carbohydrate each have 4 calories per gram. It’s true that we all need some fat in our diets. However, choose monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, nuts and seeds. Monounsaturated fats do not increase blood cholesterol when included in a low-fat meal plan. The total amount of fat in your diet should be about 25 to 35 percent of your daily intake (or 1 tbsp. of the fats listed above, per meal).
So there you have it. Those are the top surprising facts about cholesterol. Cholesterol isn’t the baddie that many of us have made it out to be, so try to be smarter about your food choices and keep those LDL levels down.