You’ve probably heard a host of mistruths around cholesterol – from blanket statements around its dangers to our health to the war on eggs, we’ll be busting some of the most common myths around cholesterol.
First, let’s unpack the basics of cholesterol. It’s a waxy, fat-like substance which is found both in our bodies and in the food we eat – but it’s not all bad. Let’s take a look at the two differing categories:
LDL: This is the “bad” stuff – the cholesterol the doctors warn us about. LDL, also known as low-density lipoprotein, is the type that makes up the bulk of the body’s cholesterol, and high levels of this can increase your risk for stroke and heart disease.
HDL: High-density lipoprotein, otherwise known as “good” cholesterol, absorbs the cholesterol in your body and transports it to your liver. Your liver then does its job and clears it out of the body.
Cholesterol is made in our liver, and this is where we get the amount that we need for survival. Foods like meat, dairy and poultry then make up the rest of the cholesterol found in our bodies – and, like anything, eating these foods in excess can spell trouble for your cholesterol levels. But it’s not that simple – that’s why we’ll be unpacking a few of the major myths and getting to the bottom of the cholesterol conundrum.
Myth 1: All cholesterol is bad
Contrary to popular opinion, cholesterol not always a bad thing. In fact, we rely on cholesterol for a variety of bodily functions, including the following:
- Building our cells
- Making vitamins – including the sunshine vitamin!
- Hormone production
High levels of HDL cholesterol – the “good” kind we mentioned earlier – can actually decrease your risk for stroke and heart disease as it helps flush out excess cholesterol from our arteries. So, in some cases, cholesterol is actually good for you!
Myth 2: Egg yolks are bad for you
You can ditch those egg white omelettes now – turns out the egg yolk is not the villain of the culinary world. Despite its cholesterol content and though there is still an ongoing debate on the topic, research shows that an egg yolk won’t actually raise our LDL cholesterol levels the way that some other foods do, particularly those high in trans fats. High trans-fat foods include the following:
- Margarine and shortening
- Fried foods like chips and fried chicken or fish
- Commercially-made baked goods
- Frozen pizzas
These are the foods you’ll want to limit – but eggs, on the other hand, pack numerous health benefits. While an egg has around 186mg of cholesterol, studies show eggs can actually raise our HDL levels – this is the “good” kind of cholesterol. On top of that, eggs have a number of heart health-boosting benefits from their omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin A content.
The American Heart Association suggests up to 2 eggs a day can be a safe addition to a balanced diet, with studies showing it may be the foods eaten excessively alongside eggs that are raising cholesterol levels – like fried bacon and butter. So, an egg with brekkie or lunch is not only safe, but healthful too – these tiny powerhouses offer a range of whole-body benefits from their rich protein content – packing a whopping 6 grams in just one egg – and this nutrient reduces our urge to snack, along with keeping us fuller for longer. This, in turn, could also help keep our LDL cholesterol levels down as we’re less likely to overdo it on the junk food.
Myth 3: Sugar doesn’t cause high LDL cholesterol
When we talk about high cholesterol, it’s usually fat that takes centre stage in the conversation – and while certain kinds of fats like trans fats do contribute to the development of LDL cholesterol, sugar isn’t an innocent bystander in the matter. In fact, our increasingly-high sugar intakes have been directly linked to the rise in cases of high cholesterol.
This is because excess sugar causes our livers to produce higher levels of LDL cholesterol, along with raising our triglyceride levels – these are the fats stored in our blood which increase our risk for heart disease. Much like cholesterol, triglycerides can’t be dissolved in our blood, leaving our arteries vulnerable to damage – this happens when the triglycerides travel through our vascular system, raising our risk for stroke, heart attacks and atherosclerosis. But with the average Aussie downing 17 teaspoons of sugar a day, many of us are at risk for soaring cholesterol levels – and one of the first steps to reducing your risk is by making a few simple lifestyle choices, starting with your diet.
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