The term cholesterol sends shivers among many people due to the fact that high cholesterol is always associated with heart disease. How many times have you heard that you need to check your cholesterol level? The fact is, a cholesterol test doesn’t indicate the condition of your heart. More specifically, what matters is the High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and the Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) in your body. If you have been told eating fat raises the risk of a heart attack among other confusing myths, this article debunks all of them and gives you the real facts about cholesterol.
Myth 1: All Cholesterol is bad
Blood cholesterol is a fatty substance carried in our blood cells by a cell membrane called lipoprotein. One of the main functions of cholesterol is to create hormones (vitamin D and bile acid) which breaks down fats. Like mentioned above, cholesterol travels through the bloodstream in HDL or LDL. Also known as “bad” cholesterol, too many LDL in your blood can clog your arteries and force your heart to work excessively. This is what leads to heart failures. On the other hand, HDL carries all the cholesterol back to the liver, removing it from our bodies, hence the term “good” cholesterol.
Myth 2: High Cholesterol Causes Heart Disease
The word cholesterol is actually used inaccurately. HDL and LDL are not cholesterol, rather, they are proteins that transport cholesterol around in our bodies. So, when your cholesterol tests show that you have high cholesterol levels, it’s bound to be flawed since most labs only measure “Total” cholesterol. The so-called “bad” cholesterol is further divided into two:
- Small, dense LDL which can easily penetrate the arterial wall due to their small size, causing heart issues.
- Large LDL which aren’t able to penetrate the arterial wall due to their large size.
So far no conclusive studies can link cholesterol to heart diseases. In fact, a Cardiovascular Health Study conducted in 2004 concluded that fats were weakly associated with poor heart health.
Myth 3: Saturated Fat is Bad for Your Heart
Topics surrounding the effects of saturated fats have led to enormous research costing billions of dollars. Yet, there isn’t enough proof that associates saturated fats to heart disease. However, it was discovered that replacing some saturated fats with some unsaturated fats reduced the risks of cardiac arrests by 14 percent. Foods that contain a high concentration of saturated fats include coconut, butter, red meat, and palm oil. Saturated fats are mostly solid at room temperature compared to unsaturated fats like olive oil, at room temperature. Saturated fats are not dangerous. On the contrary, they have been shown to raise HDL cholesterol as well as the large LDL which doesn’t contribute to heart risks. These fats turn unhealthy when they are hydrogenated or chemically processed to increase their shelf life, for instance, margarine. The goes to prove that consumption of processed food is more harmful than traditional foods.
Myth 4: Fatty Foods Lead to High Cholesterol
Most people avoid avocados because they are supposedly cholesterol-rich. The fact is, cholesterol is only found in animal foods. So, fatty plant foods like olive oil, nuts, and avocado have zero cholesterol and are considered healthy foods by many nutritionists.
Myth 5: Children Don’t Need to Have Their Cholesterol Checked
Cholesterol levels can affect any age group. While it’s true age might raise your cholesterol, obese kids or those kids who often eat processed foods could have issues with their cholesterol as well. It’s especially important to check the cholesterol level of your kids if heart conditions run in the family. This makes it possible to manage any conditions early.
Myth 6: High Cholesterol is Caused by What You Eat
This couldn’t be further from the truth. The misguided suggestions from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) were finally disregarded by a group of scientists who found no correlation at all between cholesterol-rich foods and heart conditions. If you had stopped eating eggs, butter, milk, cheese, bacon, red meat, and animal fats, you’ll be happy to learn that nutritious foods with cholesterol have insignificant effects on your health. High cholesterol is more of a genetic problem than a food issue.
Myth 7: Reducing the Intake of Cholesterol Helps You Live Longer
Many guidelines recommend reducing the consumption of saturated fats, cholesterol, and sugar while increasing the intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. One study by Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), found no links between taking low-fat diets and living longer In fact, results showed zero difference in death, cancer or heart disease. Only a balanced meal can have real results on your overall health.
Last but not least, the main risk factors that cause heart conditions are obesity, smoking, drug abuse, and diabetes. The myths surrounding the cholesterol issue have been blown out of proportion thereby misleading a lot of people. For a healthy heart, here are a few pointers:
- Reduce consumption of trans fats and opt for healthy fats found in avocado, olive oil (used cold) and coconut oil.
- Quit smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
- Reduce grains and sugars in your diet.
- Include a daily intake of fermented foods in your diet to boost your immunity.