Cholesterol - Is It Really Bad?
We have been told for many years that we need to avoid cholesterol and we need to keep our numbers low. The thing is, we need cholesterol to live.
We have been told for many years that we need to avoid cholesterol and we need to keep our numbers low. The thing is, we need cholesterol to live. Every cell in our body has cholesterol. Cholesterol is required for producing new cells and hormones and we can’t live without it. In fact, if we don’t consume enough in our diet, our body will make it for us. Our body knows how to keep it in balance and if we don’t eat enough it will increase production in the liver and if we do eat enough it will decrease production. But what we eat does matter and we do have some control over our levels.
For a long time now, doctors have been saying we need to eat a low fat diet to keep our cholesterol down because fat raises our cholesterol numbers. Or, even more likely, they’re prescribing statins (which have a lot of side effects) to keep your cholesterol down.
Here’s the truth though - fat doesn’t cause you to have high cholesterol and it doesn’t increase your chances of heart disease. Sugar and starches do that.
Because of this, if we really dive into this and research it, we can see that this is another area where studies have shown that the recommendations we’re getting today are more about profits than about health.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded an enormous trial designed to link the consumption of foods containing fat to heart disease. The $115 million Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial took 12,866 men with high cholesterol, split them into two groups, and fed one group the government guidelines’ diet for seven years with the hope of lowering the incidence of heart disease. The government’s diet resulted in a 7.1 percent increase in heart disease deaths.* - The Calorie Myth by Jonathan Bailor
*Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial Research Group. “Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial: Risk Factor Changes and Mortality Results.” JAMA 248(12) (1982): 1465–77; PubMed PMID: 7050440.
So they gave them a diet to lower their cholesterol and they had an increase in heart disease deaths! Yet we’re still on this fat=cholesterol bandwagon and prescribing statins like crazy to lower the numbers even though we know that isn’t the problem!
There are two types of cholesterol- HDL (the good cholesterol) and LDL (the “bad” cholesterol). The thing is, the only time cholesterol is bad for you is when you have too much of the small, dense LDL particles in your blood. And not all LDL is like that - some of it is big and fluffy. And when that’s the case, it’s not harmful.
HDL basically carries excess cholesterol to your liver for recycling. LDL does the opposite and transports cholesterol packages into the body to the cells. The cells in your body attract LDL and extract the cholesterol. The problem arises when the large LDL packages (which are triglycerides) don’t get fully absorbed by the cells and and instead of large packages (how they start) there are small, dense packages of LDLs in your blood. Those are what are dangerous because they can get stuck and can clog your arteries.
And here’s the important part - fat raises HDL and remember that’s the good cholesterol. It cleans your blood. Sugar and starch raise the LDL - and when that doesn’t get absorbed properly and creates small, dense particles then, as mentioned above, it can clog your arteries.
So all of that to say, it’s possible to improve your cholesterol levels simply by eating a low-carb, high-fat diet. And a high HDL shows a reduced risk of heart disease! Yay! In fact, check out this quote from The Calorie Myth by Jonathon Bailor:
When it comes to predicting heart health, the American Heart Association, the International Diabetes Federation, and the World Health Organization agree that low HDL cholesterol—not high LDL cholesterol—is what matters. Looking at disease and death rates at various levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol, researchers have found that people with low HDL run a much greater risk of heart disease. (emphasis mine)
So that means replacing a diet that includes good, healthy fats with a diet that is high in starch and sugars is going to lower your HDL and raise your LDL - the opposite of what we want in our cholesterol. So instead of preventing heart disease, the recommendation to eliminate fat in our diets has actually caused an increase of heart disease!
Two of the books that helped me understand cholesterol a little better were Low Carb, High Fat Food Revolution by Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt and The Calorie Myth by Jonathan Bailor. There are many nutrition books that address cholesterol though so if you are being told you need to be on cholesterol medication or if you’re being told to cut fat out of your diet, please do yourself a favor and do some research of your own before trusting that advice blindly. We need to be our own best advocates when it comes to our health and the medications we allow into our bodies. Just because a doctor tells you to take something doesn’t make it the absolute truth. I’m not saying you should never listen and you shouldn’t take medications prescribed to you - just don’t do it blindly. Research things and decide for yourself if you can help your body in a holistic way with food and proper nutrition.