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Clearing Up Cholesterol Confusion

Chances are you’ve got a negative impression of cholesterol. Decades of general medical advice has taught us to be wary, associating high cholesterol with cardiovascular issues. But what does this mean for establishing healthy eating habits? Many foods that are recognized as nutritious are also high in cholesterol. Can you eat scrambled eggs or should you give them up for good?

The truth is, cholesterol can be a tricky topic. The body needs cholesterol to function, but there are certain types of cholesterol that are better than others. Designing a well-rounded diet on murky understandings of cholesterol can definitely be problematic.

Let’s clear up some common misunderstandings about this molecule and achieve clarity once and for all.

Common Questions on Cholesterol

If you’re not sure how cholesterol works, you’re not alone! Here are some of the most common questions:

• Is dietary cholesterol the same as body cholesterol?

• If I have high cholesterol, should I stop eating eggs?

• What’s the difference between ‘good’ cholesterol and ‘bad’ cholesterol?

• Cholesterol only matters if you have diabetes, right?

Cholesterol levels are closely related to potential health risks, so it’s no surprise that people get spooked about eating foods with high cholesterol. Since diet is something that people can generally control, it makes sense that everyone should strive to create healthier eating habits. But the relationship between the body and cholesterol is much more complex than a simple cause-effect dynamic. If you feel stumped on any of the questions listed above, read on to get a better understanding about dietary cholesterol and health.

High Cholesterol and Heart Disease

High cholesterol levels in the body can elevate an individual’s risk of developing health conditions – in particular, heart disease. Cholesterol is a waxy substance present in the arteries. When cholesterol levels become too high, that substance can block blood flow and reduce the heart’s ability to function. This buildup can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Thus, cholesterol is not just a concern for individuals with diabetes or heart conditions. Elevated cholesterol levels can lead to serious consequences for any individual, regardless of their health history.

‘Good’ Cholesterol vs. ‘Bad’ Cholesterol

With that said, being scared away from cholesterol-rich foods is unnecessary and can actually create more stress for a person trying to establish healthy habits. This is because not all cholesterol is bad! Lipoproteins help escort cholesterol throughout the body. LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, is considered bad, while HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is considered good. The body actually needs HDL cholesterol for important things, like making hormones, building cells, and escorting unneeded cholesterol to the liver to be flushed out.

Dietary Decisions and the Body

Beyond these lipoprotein labels, it’s important to understand that, for most, dietary cholesterol (cholesterol present in food) has minimal effects on the body’s cholesterol levels overall. High-cholesterol foods don’t necessarily correlate to higher levels of bad cholesterol in the body. Instead, trans fats and saturated fats are the real menaces to avoid when making dietary decisions, as these elements have been proven to have a direct correlation with cholesterol levels in the body.

In other words, the types of fats present in a diet do determine the amount of total, HDL, and LDL cholesterol levels in the body. To put it plainly, eggs are high in dietary cholesterol but low in saturated fat, making them low-risk for elevating LDL cholesterol in the average person.

Special Cases Should Consult a Physician

While these are the general guidelines for most people, it is possible for individuals to respond to certain foods differently. After all, everyone’s body processes things in a slightly different way. If you have a specific health condition, including heart disease, diabetes, or other elevated risks, always consult a physician to establish a diet that is best for you!

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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