What a time to be alive! People are eating the whole egg again, and even fat isn’t always bad. As we learn more about disease, food, and their relationship in our bodies, we’re learning more information about each. (Thanks, science!)
Today we’re going to talk about cholesterol – perhaps one of the most misunderstood molecules in the body – and its relationship to cardiovascular disease. Ask most folks how to prevent cardiovascular disease, and they’ll likely cite “lowering cholesterol.”
But there’s still a lot to discuss and consider.
Is cholesterol bad?
Cholesterol has gotten a bad rap, but it’s one of the most essential molecules in the body. Not only does it make up our cell membranes, but it’s also the precursor to steroid hormones like estrogen, as well as bile acids. We can’t survive without it. Your liver makes what you need, and you get the rest from food.
If you’ve heard of Nina Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise, you know there is plenty of debate about whether high cholesterol diets and saturated fat are really that bad for you. Yet more recent studies suggest too much saturated fat is harmful.
Cholesterol and your heart
The American Heart Association says while cholesterol and fat aren’t automatically “bad,” too much of the wrong kind can be a problem. LDL, or low density lipoprotein, cholesterol can contribute to fatty buildups that narrow your arteries and could eventually raise your risk for having a heart attack or stroke.
The federal government’s latest dietary guidelines suggest eating as little dietary cholesterol as possible, even though the guidelines no longer include a key recommendation that people have only 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day.
If you’re getting the impression that the relationship between cholesterol and overall health is complicated, you’re right. Of all the common misperceptions of cholesterol as noted by the American Heart Association, here are just a few:
MYTH: A food is heart-healthy if there’s no cholesterol on the nutrition label
When checking nutrition labels, look beyond the cholesterol line. The American Heart Association says you’ll want to also watch for high levels of saturated fat or trans fat, both of which can raise your blood cholesterol.
MYTH: Using margarine instead of butter will help lower your cholesterol
Both butter and hard margarines have saturated fat and trans fat, which the American Heart Association says aren’t great for you. Look for liquid or soft margarines with no trans fats, and keep working toward eating a healthy diet overall.
MYTH: Diet and physical activity dictate your cholesterol level
Along with diet and exercise, your age, weight, and heredity contribute to your overall blood cholesterol level. Nevertheless, eating healthy and exercising will help you maintain your cardiovascular health.
Things to Consider:
- Just as you might have “good” and “bad” debt, you can have some control over how much “good” and “bad” cholesterol is in your diet.
- See if you can add a vegetable or 10 to your plate at each meal.
- Swap ideas for healthy recipes with others in Transamerica’s Wealth and Health Community.