Cholesterol Myths and Facts: What You Need to Know

words Alexa Wang

Cholesterol. It’s one of those things that we all think we know about. But the truth is that there are a lot of cholesterol myths out there. Some have a basic grounding in truth but take a wrong turn. Others are potentially dangerous.

So, how much do you really know about cholesterol? These are our top seven cholesterol myths debunked.

Cholesterol Facts

Myth: All cholesterol is bad for you

Cholesterol is needed for our brain, nerves, muscles and skin. It also plays a part in making key hormones and building cells. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is referred to as bad cholesterol as high levels of LDL can raise your risk of heart disease and stroke.

High-density lipoprotein on the other hand is known as ‘good’ cholesterol as it carries the LDL cholesterol back to the liver where it is then excreted from the body. High levels of HDL can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. So next time you get your cholesterol levels checked, know which number is for which type of cholesterol.

Myth:  Having foods with a lot of cholesterol will not raise my cholesterol levels.

Foods that contain a lot of cholesterol usually also have a lot of saturated fat. Saturated fat makes your cholesterol numbers higher. Go for fewer foods with saturated fats and look for unsaturated fat foods instead. Foods produced from animals, such as red meat, butter, and cheese, have a high amount of saturated fats. Aim to eat foods with plenty of fibre, such as oatmeal and beans, and healthy unsaturated fats, such as avocados, vegetable oils, and nuts.

Myth: Nothing I do will change my cholesterol levels.

There is a lot you can do to improve your cholesterol levels and keep them at a healthy range. Some tips include: making healthy food choices and having a balanced diet, being active every day, not smoking or using tobacco products, reducing alcohol intake, knowing your family history and getting your cholesterol levels checked regularly (every 5 years, unless told by your doctor).

Cholesterol tips

Myth: I take medication for high cholesterol, so I don’t need to worry about diet

Common medicines like statins help reduce the amount of cholesterol your liver makes and reduce the risk of heart disease. However, not eating a balanced diet or a diet high in saturated fats can still increase cholesterol levels in the blood.

Myth: I don’t need to get my cholesterol checked if I’m under 40 and in good shape

High cholesterol levels can affect all body types and ages, and everyone should get it tested every 5 years, particularly as they are no direct symptoms to indicate you have high levels of cholesterol. If you have a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol levels, it is even more important to get these levels tested.

Myth: Women don’t need to worry about cholesterol levels.

Triglyceride and cholesterol levels tend to rise in both men and women as they get older. Although the build-up of cholesterol in the walls of the arteries occurs later for women than men, it is not to say it cannot happen. Diet, lack of exercise and genetics can play a part.

Premenopausal women are known to have some protection from high LDL (bad) levels of cholesterol, compared to men. The female hormone oestrogen is at its highest during the childbearing years and it tends to raise good cholesterol levels. This may explain why premenopausal women are usually protected from developing heart disease.

Women nearing menopause should have their cholesterol levels checked, as oestrogen levels fall during this phase.

Myth: I should only eat egg whites and not the whole egg.

Egg yolk is rich in cholesterol but also in other nutrients and protein. The cholesterol found in eggs does not have a significant effect on blood cholesterol, as a diet high in saturated fat would. People can eat eggs as long as they are consumed as part of a healthy diet and in moderation.

Understanding cholesterol isn’t always easy. Especially when there are so many myths flying around. But if you’re trying to improve your heart health, keeping an eye on your cholesterol – and your saturated fat intake – is a good place to start.

NPD Nutritionist Deepali Shah Katira has a wealth of experience in nutrition, including a Bachelor (BSc) Hons degree in Nutrition she is also a registered member of the Association for Nutrition (ANutr)


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