I’d be one of the first to admit several years ago that I’ve probably chimed in on the Cholesterol hype several years ago even though I might not have really known what it all meant back then.
So before we put on our full on myth busting suits, let’s make sure we all at least understand what cholesterol actually is.
Myth #1: “Cholesterol” is cholesterol
Cholesterol is a component of a compound which floats around your blood, and these compounds contain cholesterol as well as fats and special proteins called “lipoproteins”.
So while cholesterol is understood as a molecule that floats through your blood, what it is bound to as it floats is more important than merely how much cholesterol there is overall. It can in fact have an opposite effect on the arteries and heart depending on what the cholesterol is combined with. Yes, quite the opposite!
These Lipoproteins are grouped into two main categories:
HDL: High Density Lipoprotein (also know as the “good” cholesterol) which “cleans up” some of those infamous arterial “plaques” and transports cholesterol back to the liver.
LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein (also known as the “bad” cholesterol) that transports cholesterol from the liver (and is the kind found to accumulate in arteries and become easily oxidized hence making them “bad”).
But it gets a little more complex: 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 the fact 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)? Because 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 that actually serve you well.
People with too-low levels of cholesterol have 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
First, don’t start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.
That being said – 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.
But guess what does (as I do my sing-song motion)?
Nutrition and exercise! Seriously, follow me beyond the cliché and “hear it all before” feeling. Tap into this POWERFUL lifestyle secret and reap the benefits for decades.
A very impactful way to lower your cholesterol through nutrition is be eating a lot of fruits and vegetables – especially vegetable. An I mean a lot, as in 10 servings every single day.
Not to worry- the fun recipe below will help you add another enjoyable, delicious salad to to you daily servings.
Additionally, do exercise, do lose weight, stop smoking, and eat (more and) better quality fats. That means fatty fish, avocados and extra virgin olive oil. Completely ditch the over-processed hydrogenated “trans” and man made fats.
Cholesterol, heart health and the science behind all that is seemingly complicated and we are learning more every day as there is more to learn. However, you shouldn’t need to be afraid of it as much as there are a lot of things you can do proactively from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective to improve and support your cholesterol health.
RECIPE: Orange Hemp Seed Dressing
Dressing for you Salad
Makes about ¾ cup
½ cup hemp seeds
½ cup orange juice
1 clove of garlic, peeled
dash salt and/or pepper
Blend all ingredients together until creamy.
Serve on top of your favourite salad and Enjoy!
Store extra in airtight container in the fridge. It will keep for about a week.
Image by JPS68 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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