During my thirty-plus years of working in healthcare, one of the biggest things that always annoyed me was how people said that eggs and butter were bad for your health, but margarine was good for you. These statements stem from the misconceptions about cholesterol that are still out there.
A fascinating man that I had the privilege of getting to know for a while was Dr. Ross Walker, an Australian integrative cardiologist. He was involved in heart surgeries but then began to also work on the prevention end of heart disease. I attended an interesting seminar he gave called The Big Fat Lie that discussed cholesterol in depth.
I was already familiar with much of what Dr. Walker said because I had been reading about it for years. But it’s important for people to know that in many cases, cholesterol doesn’t make people sick and fat or cause them to die of heart disease. Over 50% of people who die of heart disease don’t have elevated cholesterol, meaning that something else is at work.
Some people have high cholesterol due to genetics. In most people, the liver is responsible for making about 80% of the body’s cholesterol, with the remaining coming in through the diet. In other words, your cholesterol levels don’t just reflect what you eat; they also reflect processing by the liver.
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Your body needs cholesterol as it is the starting point for all steroid hormone production. Every one of the trillions of cells in your body has a surrounding membrane that includes fat. Your body, and your brain, in particular, need fat.
Saturated and manmade fats like trans fats are unhealthy. When you eat those kinds of foods, particularly if you’re also living a high-stress lifestyle and drinking alcohol, the risk of heart disease goes up.
Foods that won’t increase your cholesterol include home cooking with butter, olive oil, vegetables, fruit, and lean meats.
Cholesterol can be categorized into low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and triglycerides, which are a component of cholesterol. LDL is supposed to be bad and HDL good. High levels of LDL indicate that too much fat is being transported from the gut and liver and placed in different parts of the body, including small arteries. Once in the blood vessel, the immune system attacks the cholesterol creating an unstable plaque, which can then break off and cause a stroke or a heart attack. In other words, be careful about high LDL.
HDL, on the other hand, takes components back to the liver for processing. It’s a helpful form of cholesterol. Triglycerides levels have more to do with sugar and medications than dietary fat.
If you consistently make good dietary choices, you’re going a long way towards preventing heart disease. Healthy fats include sesame seed oil, olive oil, cold-pressed fish oils, and plant-based oils. Macadamian oil and avocado oil can reduce inflammation due to their antioxidant content.
If you avoid unhealthy foods and choose healthy options, it’s going to go a long way towards keeping heart disease at bay, particularly if you’ve got genetics on your side.