Cholesterol has been somewhat demonized over the past few decades. The pressure is on to keep your levels down and thus avoid heart disease. But, is it really that bad?
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty sticky substance that’s produced in your liver and it is absolutely vital for life – you would die if you didn’t have it. The fact that your body can produce it and you can get it from food sources shows just how important it is to us as human beings. It has a huge role to play in so many bodily functions:
- Vital for hormone production
- Cell membranes are made from it
- Important for digestion
- Essential for brain health
- Critical for bone health
- Key role in body repair during sleep
Why does cholesterol get such a bad press?
So if cholesterol is so important for your health why does it get such a bad press? In 1913 a study was done where rabbits were fed fatty high cholesterol meats to see if there was a link between heart disease and food. The results did show a link between early death and cholesterol but what it failed to note was that rabbits are essentially vegetarians and therefore not designed to process foods high in cholesterol!
Then in 1953, Dr. Ancel Keys published a paper linking the consumption of dietary fat to heart disease. This study still serves as the basis for the belief that cholesterol is bad for you. However, when Keys published his analysis apparently proving the link between dietary fats and heart disease he selectively used statistics from only seven out of the 22 countries he had drawn data from. As you might suspect, the countries he excluded were those that did not support his hypothesis.
The nutrition community of that time completely accepted his findings and encouraged the public to cut out butter, red meat, animal fats, eggs, dairy and other “artery clogging” fats from their diets. This kickstarted the low fat diet industry that sill exists today.
How to manage your cholesterol levels
- Eat good quality fats: meats from grass fed source, avocado, oily fish, nuts, eggs. These food items have no impact on cholesterol production.
- Munch through lots of green leafy veg such as spinach, broccoli and kale
- Avoid low fat items. It’s fat that gives your food taste and low fat products usually have a lot of added sugar to put some flavor back in. Sugar is the demon, not cholesterol!
The truth is that processed foods, fructose and hydrogenated fats like margarine have a much bigger impact on poor health than healthy fats. So ditch that margarine and have butter instead.