Cholesterol has a pretty bad name so how do you sort the fact from the fiction? In today’s article Nutritionist Ciara Wright helps clear up some of the common myths about cholesterol.
Fiction: the lower your cholesterol the better
Cholesterol is a natural substance produced by your liver which is essential to your health. It is a fundamental component of all your cell membranes and all the hormones in your body; the sex hormones, your stress hormones and even vitamin D, are made from cholesterol. That said, we’ve all heard the warnings on having elevated cholesterol but there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ kinds. The bad kind is ‘LDL’ and this carries fat around the body and likes to stick to the walls of your arteries, generally hanging around like a moody teenager and causing trouble. The good type of cholesterol is called HDL and it helps to mop up the LDL and send it back to where it came from.
Fact: Reduce your bad cholesterol by cutting fat intake and maintain good levels of HDL cholesterol by increasing physical activity and exercise.
Fiction: reducing dietary cholesterol will reduce your cholesterol levels
We were once told to give up eggs as they have a high amount of dietary cholesterol. However, for the majority of people, our diet is not where we get our cholesterol from (although when it comes to genetics, there’s always a few exceptions!). For the most part, it has been shown that diets high in saturated fat and obesity (which includes high-sugar diets) are the major risk factors for high cholesterol. When you are overweight, chances are your liver is too. 80% of your cholesterol floating round your body comes from your liver, so to keep your cholesterol down, try keeping your liver happy.
Fact: Most of your cholesterol is produced by your liver. Keep your liver healthy by reducing saturated fats and sugary foods. ‘An egg a day is okay’!
Fiction: Having high cholesterol means you will have a heart attack
We know that having thick plaques build up on the inside of our arteries can lead to a blockage and cause a heart attack. That’s pretty simple to visualise. However, the thickening plaques can be fairly inert. What you need there is a match to set it all off; introduce some inflammation and that could ignite a whole cascade of events. Picture a lightning strike triggering a volcanic eruption. Now there’s your heart attack. Of course if your high cholesterol has come from a high-fat, high-sugar diet, there’s likely inflammation going on there so the perfect storm is more likely to happen.
Fact: It’s the environment that causes high cholesterol to lead to more dangerous events. Increase your anti-inflammatory omega-3 with oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring.