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Heart disease

Debunking the myths about cholesterol

Cholesterol has a bad rep. Many people think of it as the worst thing they can eat, and it’s true that high cholesterol levels in the blood can lead to heart disease.  However, cholesterol isn’t always a bad thing.

Our bodies actually need cholesterol in order to keep us healthy. This waxy substance helps to build the walls of our cells, and is critical to brain function. It only causes a problem when we have too much of it in our bloodstream.

You probably know that the cholesterol in our bodies comes in different forms, including “good” (HDL) cholesterol and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. What we want for the best health is low levels of bad cholesterol and high levels of good cholesterol. So, let’s sort out our cholesterol facts.

If I stop eating cholesterol-containing foods, will my cholesterol drop to zero?

No. Cholesterol comes from two sources: our bodies make about 80% of it out of other fats, while the rest, called dietary cholesterol, comes from the foods we eat. If you stop eating cholesterol, your liver will still make it out of other fats.

Does dietary cholesterol always go straight to my arteries and clog them?

No. Only a little of this cholesterol is absorbed into the bloodstream. Saturated and trans fats have a more negative effect on blood cholesterol levels.

Should I cut out fats altogether?

No. Our bodies need fat. But we should concentrate on the good fats – monounsaturated fats like olive and canola oils and polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 and omega-6– while avoiding unhealthy ones like trans fats (found in processed and fried foods) and saturated fats (found in foods like butter and fatty cuts of meat).

I love eggs. Can I keep eating them?

Yes. As long as you’re eating less saturated and trans fats, you can still enjoy an egg every day. You can also cook using pourable egg whites, since the cholesterol is found only in the egg’s yolk.

Doesn’t high cholesterol only affect older people?

Wrong. Family history, a diet high in fatty, processed foods, and a sedentary lifestyle are all risk factors for the development of high cholesterol levels – even in young children.

If I stay at a healthy weight, I shouldn’t have to worry about my cholesterol levels, right?

Not quite. Lots of other factors besides body weight affect cholesterol levels, including what you eat, how much you eat, and how much cholesterol your body produces. But keeping your weight under control does contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle – and lowers your risk of heart disease at the same time.

Does having high cholesterol mean I need to take medication?

Not necessarily. If your doctor tells you that your cholesterol levels are above a healthy level, changes to your lifestyle may help you lower your cholesterol.

You can:

  • Decrease your intake of saturated fat
  • Decrease your intake of dietary cholesterol
  • Add 5-10 grams of fibre to your diet each day
  • Lose about 10 pounds if you are overweight
  • Add plant sterols to your diet (found naturally in many fruits and vegetables)

Exercise can also improve your cholesterol levels.

Please speak to your healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program.

Debunking the myths about cholesterol
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