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Cholesterol Myths

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Over the years, cholesterol has gained a bad reputation in the world of health and nutrition. But like they say, you can't always believe everything you hear. So before you swear off those scrambled eggs forever, take a look at these popular cholesterol myths, and the truths behind them.

Cholesterol Myth #1: Cholesterol is bad for your heart

High cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease by causing plaque buildup in your arteries, but all cholesterol in not bad. In fact, your body produces about 75% of the amount circulating in your bloodstream, and this is in part determined by your genetics. Cholesterol is important to the functioning of cells, and many hormones are derived from cholesterol. Truth is, all cholesterol is not created equal. There are ‘bad’ cholesterols and good cholesterols; it is important to distinguish which is which and to try to minimize your intake of bad cholesterol..

Cholesterol Myth #2: Eggs are bad for you

Eggs contain high amounts of cholesterol (approximately 200 mg each). This is quite high, particularly for a person who already may have high cholesterol. But eggs offer other healthful nutrients like protein and unsaturated fats. If you want to reduce your risk of heart disease, consider cutting down on other breakfast foods that are high in saturated fat, like sausage and bacon, and eating egg whites only. The majority of cholesterol in an egg is in the yolk.

Cholesterol Myth #3: All cholesterol is bad

Nowadays, doctors actually measure two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). In the simplest terms, HDL is the "good" cholesterol that may actually reduce your risk of heart disease, and LDL is the "bad" cholesterol that can cause plaque buildup in your arteries. The American Heart Association currently considers less than 100 mg/dL an optimal LDL level for people without heart disease or other risk factors for heart disease. If you have heart disease or a risk factor for heart disease like diabetes, you doctor will likely recommend an even lower LDL target for you.

Lower Cholesterol Naturally

Cholesterol Myth #4: Fatty foods raise cholesterol levels

Like most of the myths on this list, there is some truth to this, but all fats are not created equal. Saturated and trans fats, like those found in processed foods, meat, butter, and cream can contribute to elevated cholesterol levels. Unsaturated fats may actually help lower your LDL (bad cholesterol). Some of the best sources of unsaturated fats include:

  • Olives and olive oil
  • Nuts
  • Avocados
  • Soybeans
  • Peanut butter
  • Sesame seeds

Foods high in fiber, like oatmeal and whole grain bread, may help reduce your total cholesterol.

Normal Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol Myth #5: People who exercise have low cholesterol

While exercise is certainly an important part of a heart-healthy lifestyle, there are many other factors to consider when it comes to cholesterol, such as diet, age, medications, and gender (women have a slightly increased risk of developing high cholesterol.) Research also indicates that high cholesterol is largely hereditary, so check your family history to see if you may be predisposed. 

Reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Monti, MD, MPH

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