You did know that there is a bit of an over-emphasis/almost obsession with cholesterol, right?
Before we jump on into some common myths let’s make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to what exactly cholesterol is.
Myth #1: “Cholesterol” is cholesterol
While cholesterol is actually molecule, what it is bound to while it’s travelling through your blood is more important than just how much of it there is overall. In fact, depending on what cholesterol is combined with can have opposite effects on your arteries and heart.
So cholesterol is just one component of a compound that floats around your blood. These compounds contain cholesterol as well as fats and special proteins called “lipoproteins”.
These lipoproteins are grouped into two main categories:
- HDL: High Density Lipoprotein (AKA “good” cholesterol) that “cleans up” some of those infamous “arterial plaques” and transports cholesterol back to the liver.
- LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein (AKA “bad” cholesterol) that transports cholesterol from the liver (and is the kind found to accumulate in arteries and become easily oxidized hence their “badness”).
And yes, it does get even more complicated and in depth than this. Each of these 2 categories, HDL and LDL, is further broken down into subcategories and these can be measured by a blood test.
So you can see why “cholesterol” isn’t simply just cholesterol. It has very different effects on your body depending on which of its buddies it’s bound to in your blood and what it is actually doing there.
Myth #2: Cholesterol is bad
Cholesterol is absolutely vital for your body to produce critical things like vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, your sex hormones (e.g. estrogen and testosterone), as well as bile to help you absorb dietary fats. Not to mention that it’s incorporated into the membranes of your cells.
Talk about being important!!
The overall amount of cholesterol in your blood (AKA “total cholesterol”) isn’t nearly as important as how much of each kind of cholesterol you have in your blood.
While having too much LDL cholesterol as compared with HDL (the LDL:HDL ratio) can be associated with and increased risk of developing heart disease it is not the one and only thing to consider for your heart health.
Myth #3: Eating cholesterol increases your bad cholesterol
Your liver makes most of the cholesterol in your blood, it actually not from the cholesterol you eat. That’s why cholesterol medications block an enzyme in your liver (HMG Co-A reductase, to be specific)..because that’s where it’s made!
What you eat can still affect how much cholesterol your liver produces as after a cholesterol-rich meal your liver doesn’t need to make as much.
Myth #4: Your cholesterol should be as low as possible
As with pretty much everything in health and wellness there’s a balance that needs to be maintained. There are very few times when extremes that are going to serve you well.
People with too-low levels of cholesterol have increased risk of death from other non-heart-related issues like certain types of cancers, as well as suicide.
Myth #5: Drugs are the only way to get a good cholesterol balance
We always recommend you don’t start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.
And while there are drugs that can certainly lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol there doesn’t seem to be a drug that is able to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol all that well.
But have a guess what does….
Nutrition and exercise!!
One of the best ways to lower your cholesterol with nutrition is to eat lots of fruits and veggies. When I say lots I mean it, like up to 10 servings a day. Every day.
Don’t worry I haven’t left you in the lurch. The recipe below should help you add at least another salad to your day.
You can ( and should!) also exercise, lose weight, stop smoking, and eat better quality fats. That means fatty fish, avocados and olive oil. Ditch those over-processed hydrogenated “trans” fats.
The science of cholesterol and heart health is complicated and we’re learning more and more every day. You don’t need to be as afraid of it as you are. And from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective there is a lot you can do to improve your cholesterol level.
Recipe (Dressing to go with your salad): Orange Hemp Seed Dressing
Makes about ¾ cup
½ cup hemp seeds
½ cup orange juice
1 clove of garlic, peeled
dash salt and/or pepper
Blend all ingredients together until creamy.
Serve on top of your favourite salad and Enjoy!
Tip: Store extra in airtight container in the fridge. Will keep for about a week.