Monday, July 6, 2015

Most People Have Cholesterol All Wrong

Do you know which foods contain good cholesterol, and which contain bad cholesterol? If you think you do, ha! That’s a trick question! Cholesterol in our food doesn’t come in “good” and “bad” varieties, but cholesterol readings from blood tests do, and the two aren’t as closely connected as we used to think.
We make cholesterol in our bodies. It’s a key part of cell membranes, and we use it as a building block to make important chemicals like hormones, vitamin D, and bile.
Other animals make cholesterol too, so you’ll find it in animal foods like meat, dairy, and eggs. Since cholesterol is a lipid (it mixes well with oil, but not with water) you’ll tend to find it in the fatty parts of food. But it’s not a type of fat!
Plants don’t make cholesterol, so anything vegan (like vegetable oil) is automatically cholesterol-free.
More importantly, since we make our own cholesterol, the amount we eat isn’t very important. Cholesterol, while important in our bodies, is not essential in our diet. If you never eat another cholesterol again in your life (hi, vegans!) your body will still make plenty and do just fine.
In fact, we make far more cholesterol than we eat (even if you’re a devoted carnivore). The liver adjusts its cholesterol production to account for what we eat, and will get rid of any cholesterol it doesn’t need, so even if you eat a ton of cholesterol, it will have little to no effect on what’s in your blood.

Some folks confuse fat with cholesterol. There are good and bad fats, but the cholesterol you eat has no such distinction. When it’s sitting on your plate, it’s just plain cholesterol. It only becomes “good” or “bad” when it’s packaged into particles in your bloodstream.
Those good and bad packages are lipoproteins: little particles that transport fat and cholesterol to specific destinations in your body. The low-density lipoproteins, or LDLs, are considered bad because people who have a lot of them are more likely to develop heart disease. The LDLs can get stuck in the walls of arteries, in a process that leads to atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries that can lead to heart attacks and stroke.
high-density lipoproteins, or HDLs, help remove the LDL particles to avoid forming plaques. So it’s good to have a lot of HDLs (think H for “happy”) and bad to have a lot of LDLs.