When you think cholesterol, you automatically think health issues, heart disease, and what not. Not many good thoughts pop up with that word, do they? Yes, high cholesterol does increase the risk of heart disease. But that is no reason to keep away from healthy, well-meaning foods!
It’s a well-known, widespread myth that foods high in cholesterol are not good for you. Although there are exceptions to every rule, in general, you need not worry dietary cholesterol.
How Does Body Cholesterol Work?
Cholesterol is what helps the body produce hormones, vitamin D, and keep the body balanced. While the body produces cholesterol naturally, we also intake a small amount of it from foods, such as dairy products, eggs, and meat.
But cholesterol, as is, does not cause any health issues; lipoproteins might be guilty. Lipoproteins carry cholesterol through the bloodstream to different parts. And two types of lipoprotein concern our heart health: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
The Good And Bad Of LDL And HDL
Among blood lipoproteins, LDL is higher in quantity and carries cholesterol to different body parts. LDL is considered bad as a higher LDL increases the chances of atherosclerosis and the risk of heart disease.
HDL is mostly considered good because it carries all the excess cholesterol in the body to the liver to be thrown out of the body. It might also lower the chances of atherosclerosis and is correlated to a lowered risk of heart disease.1 2
Is Dietary Cholesterol Bad For Your Heart?
The important thing to remember is this: dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol are not the same. You might think that eating more of the substance will raise the blood levels, but it doesn’t. This is because your body is a lot smarter than you can imagine.
When the cholesterol levels increase, your body automatically regulates it by sending the excess on its way to the liver. If you lack cholesterol, then the body produces more. As per this equation, if you eat high-cholesterol foods, your body simply produces less. Dietary foods are, hence, harmless.
[pullquote]Dietary cholesterol increases HDL in hyperresponders, which balances the excess LDL by sending it to the liver.[/pullquote]
Now, we come to the exception. Some people are prone to an increase in LDL cholesterol with dietary cholesterol intake. Such people, called hyperresponders, make up just about 25 percent of the population and genetically get this tendency.3 4 Although the LDL does increase with such food intake, studies have noted no increased risk of heart disease. This is mostly because of how the body balances the HDL to LDL ratio with excretion.
There might be further exceptions! Diabetics who eat dietary cholesterol have a higher chance of heart disease.5 And it is perfectly possible that some of you might have unwanted side effects with dietary cholesterol intake, but this is a very small percentage.
Why You Should Eat Cholesterol-Rich Foods
High cholesterol is just one of the many root causes of heart disease. Some of them include other diseases, oxidative stress, smoking, and high blood pressure.
When you avoid foods high in cholesterol, you’re avoiding foods such as eggs, shellfish, fish oil, and meat, all of which are highly nutritious. Recent studies have proven that these products have no correlation whatsoever to the risk of heart disease.6 So these foods are actually healthy for your body and might even combat the other causes.
So instead of going extreme, eat all foods in moderation. Also, alter your lifestyle, stay active, and lose weight to reduce cholesterol naturally. Foods such as legumes, avocados, and certain fruits and veggies will actually lower your cholesterol.
|↑1||Stamler, Jeremiah, Deborah Wentworth, and James D. Neaton. “Is relationship between serum cholesterol and risk of premature death from coronary heart disease continuous and graded?: findings in 356 222 primary screenees of the multiple risk factor intervention trial (mrfit).” Jama 256, no. 20 (1986): 2823-2828.|
|↑2||Bostan, Mehmet, Uydu Hüseyin Avni, Sermet Yildirmiþ, Meltem Malkoç, Mehtap Atak, Adem Demir, Adnan Yilmaz et al. “Pleiotropic eff ects of HDL subfractions and HDL-associated enzymes on protection against coronary artery disease.” Acta cardiologica 70, no. 3 (2015): 333-340.|
|↑3||Weggemans, R. M., P. L. Zock, J. M. Ordovas, J. Ramos‐Galluzzi, and M. B. Katan. “Genetic polymorphisms and lipid response to dietary changes in humans.” European journal of clinical investigation 31, no. 11 (2001): 950-957.|
|↑4||KATAN, MARTIJN B., and ANTON C. BEYNEN. “Characteristics of human hypo-and hyperresponders to dietary cholesterol.” American journal of epidemiology 125, no. 3 (1987): 387-399.|
|↑5||Shin, Jang Yel, Pengcheng Xun, Yasuyuki Nakamura, and Ka He. “Egg consumption in relation to risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” The American journal of clinical nutrition (2013): ajcn-051318.|
|↑6||Virtanen, Jyrki K., Jaakko Mursu, Heli EK Virtanen, Mikael Fogelholm, Jukka T. Salonen, Timo T. Koskinen, Sari Voutilainen, and Tomi-Pekka Tuomainen. “Associations of egg and cholesterol intakes with carotid intima-media thickness and risk of incident coronary artery disease according to apolipoprotein E phenotype in men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 103, no. 3 (2016): 895-901.|