Before we jump into some myths let’s make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to what cholesterol is exactly.
Cholesterol is a molecule that’s essential for maintaining good health. This waxy substance found naturally in the blood, only becomes a problem when the levels in your blood are too high.
This isn’t the entire picture though. Cholesterol is just one component of a compound that floats around your blood. These compounds also consist of fats and special proteins called “lipoproteins”.
Myth #1: All “Cholesterol” is the same
Cholesterol is grouped into two main categories:
- HDL: High Density Lipoprotein (AKA “good” cholesterol) “cleans up” some of those infamous “arterial plaques” and transports cholesterol back to the liver where it is broken down and passed out of the body.
- LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein (AKA “bad” cholesterol) transports cholesterol from the liver (and is the kind found to accumulate in arteries and become easily oxidized, hence their “Lousy Cholesterol” nickname).
And yes, it’s even more complicated than this. Each of these categories is further broken down into subcategories which can also be measured in a blood test.
So “cholesterol” isn’t simply cholesterol, because the different types have very different effects on your body. This is dependent on which other molecules it’s bound to in your blood and what role it plays.
Myth #2: Cholesterol is bad
Cholesterol is absolutely necessary for your body to produce critical things like:
• Vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun
• Hormones (such as estrogen and testosterone)
• Bile to help you absorb and break down dietary fats
Talk about an important molecule!
The overall amount of cholesterol in your blood (AKA “total cholesterol”) isn’t nearly as important as how much of each kind you have in your blood.
While way too much LDL cholesterol as compared with HDL (the LDL:HDL ratio) may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease it is absolutely not the only thing to consider for heart health.
Myth #3: Eating cholesterol increases your bad cholesterol
Most of the cholesterol in your blood is made by your liver.
The rest comes from the foods you eat such as meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. This is called dietary cholesterol.
More importantly, these types of food are high in saturated and trans fat. That’s a problem, because these fats cause your liver to make more cholesterol than it otherwise would.
Some foods can help lower LDL, the harmful cholesterol-carrying particle that contributes to artery-clogging atherosclerosis.
Here are a few examples of LDL lowering foods:
• Apples, grapes, strawberries, citrus fruits
• Oatmeal, Barley, and other whole grains
• Fatty fish
Myth #4: Your cholesterol should be as low as possible
As with almost everything in health and wellness there’s a balance that needs to be maintained. There are very few extremes that are going to serve you well.
People with lower than normal levels of cholesterol could have increased risk of death from other non-heart-related issues like certain types of cancers, as well as hemorrhagic stroke. So, you should aim for a nice healthy balance.
Myth #5: Drugs are the ONLY way to balance your cholesterol
Don’t start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.
Cholesterol medications are built to block an enzyme in your liver (HMG Co-A reductase, to be exact).
Because a majority of cholesterol is made, where? Yes, in your liver! While drugs can certainly help lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol, they don’t seem to be able to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol all that well.
But, guess what does?
That’s right! Nutrition and exercise.
One of the most impactful ways to lower your cholesterol with diet is to eat lots of fruits and veggies. Aim for at least 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables every day.
Don’t worry the recipe below should help you add at least another salad to your day.
To help get your cholesterol where you need it to be:
• Exercise regularly
• Maintain a healthy weight
• Don’t smoke
• Eat quality fats (fatty fish, avocados, nuts, olive oil)
• Ditch those over-processed hydrogenated “trans” fats. This oil is found in many foods such as, most pre-packaged chips, cakes, cookies, pie crusts and crackers.
• Avoid foods that are fried in hydrogenated vegetable oil.
Beware of “Fat-Free and Cholesterol Free” foods, as they often load the product with sugar to make up for the absence of fat.
Too much sugar and alcohol can also have a negative impact on your cholesterol.
The science of cholesterol and heart health is complicated and we’re learning more every day. Empower yourself by reading food labels and eating more whole heart healthy foods. There is a lot you can do from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective to improve your cholesterol level. It starts with diet and exercise.
Here is a delicious salad dressing recipe to help you on your way to conquering your cholesterol!
Orange Hemp Seed Dressing
Makes about ¾ cup
½ cup hemp seeds
½ cup orange juice (fresh squeezed is best)
1 clove of garlic, peeled
dash salt and/or pepper
Blend all ingredients together until creamy.
Serve on top of your favorite salad and Enjoy!
Tip: Store extra in airtight container in the fridge. Will keep for about a week.