Cholesterol is the most confusing nutrient of all time!

One of the most misunderstood nutrients is cholesterol. There were days when eating eggs yolks was diet taboo or a low-fat version of everything was available. This is due to misconceptions regarding dietary cholesterol. But now, lots of research is happening regarding cholesterol level, heart health, and the naturally present cholesterol in food. As per researchers, dietary cholesterol doesn’t directly raise blood cholesterol levels. Many foods help in increasing good cholesterol levels and reducing the bad ones. Dietary cholesterol need not be restricted.

Following the dietary guidelines, it was recommended by the doctors that not more than 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol should be consumed per day and 200 milligrams if the risk of heart disease is more. But in 2015, those guidelines changed. But now, there are no specific limits to the consumption of dietary cholesterol. But it is still important to check the food one eats to keep cholesterol at a healthy level. Doctors now recommend to limits the consumption of trans and saturated fat and added sugar.

Cholesterol and Dietary Cholesterol –

According to research, cholesterol contributes to the membrane structure of every cell in your body. The body needs this to make more Vitamin D and hormones and perform various other important functions. One cannot survive without it. The cholesterol needed by the body is produced by the body itself but a relatively small amount is absorbed from certain foods such as full-fat dairy products, meat, eggs. Cholesterol has a waxy consistency and because of this it sticks to the arteries wall and creates a plaque buildup. All these lead to heart disease. When cholesterol is discussed in terms of heart health, they refer to lipoproteins, the structures that carry cholesterol in the bloodstream. Lipoproteins contain fat inside and protein outside.

There are two kinds of lipoproteins –

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – comprises 60–70% of total blood lipoproteins. Cholesterol particles throughout the body are carried by LDL. This is called bad cholesterol, as it has been linked to atherosclerosis or the buildup of plaque in arteries. Having lots of cholesterol carried by LDL increases the risk of heart diseases. According to research, people with small particles are at greater risks of heart disease than people who have large particles. The important factor is not the size but the amount.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – picks up excess cholesterol throughout the body. It takes it back to the liver, where it can be used or excreted. Some research indicates that HDL protects against the buildup of plaque inside arteries. It is referred to as good cholesterol as having cholesterol carried by HDL particles reduces the risk of heart disease.

The amount of cholesterol in the blood and the amount of cholesterol in the food are two different things. As per believes, eating cholesterol would raise blood cholesterol levels, but that doesn’t work that way. By controlling the production of cholesterol, the body regulates the amount of cholesterol in the blood. When cholesterol from the diet reduces, then the body makes more cholesterol. If more dietary cholesterol is eaten, then the body makes less cholesterol. In most people because of this, high dietary cholesterol food has very less effect on blood cholesterol levels. But in some people, high cholesterol food increases blood cholesterol, but the risk of heart disease seems not to increase in these people.

List of the top sources of dietary cholesterol –

  • Shrimp – 189 per 3oz
  • Whole Milk – 29 mg per cup
  • Skinless Chicken Thigh – 128 mg per 3oz
  • Eggs – 186 mg per egg
  • Sirloin Steak – 83mg per 3oz

Heart disease and dietary cholesterol –

Heart disease is not only caused by cholesterol. Many other factors cause the disease, like inflammation, high blood pressure, oxidative stress, smoking. Heart disease is often driven by the lipoproteins that carry cholesterol around; dietary cholesterol, in itself, has little to no effect on this. When cholesterol-rich foods are cooked in high heat, then oxysterols are formed. Research has found that high blood levels of oxysterols may contribute to the development of heart disease. But more research is needed for further evidence.

Recent research has shown that dietary cholesterol is not associated with an increased risk of heart disease. A lot of research has been conducted on eggs, one of the good sources of dietary cholesterol, and the researchers have found that eating eggs does not increase the risks of heart disease. Eggs help to improve lipoprotein profiles, which lower the risks. People who eat three whole eggs per day have increased HDL particles and lower LDL particles than those who consumed an equivalent egg substitute.

Causes of high cholesterol –

  • Eating too many foods high in saturated fats, cholesterol, and trans fats increases the risk of high cholesterol.
  • Many lifestyle factors are also responsible for high cholesterol, like smoking and inactivity.
  • Genetics can also be responsible for high cholesterol. If parents have high cholesterol, then chances are more that it will be passed on to the children.
  • Health conditions like diabetics and hypothyroidism increase the risk of high cholesterol.

Symptoms and treatment of high cholesterol –

In most cases, high cholesterol does not have any symptoms. Many people are not aware that they are affected by high cholesterol until they developed complications like stroke or heart attack. Therefore a routine cholesterol check-up is important. The treatment of high cholesterol is heart-healthy lifestyle changes and medicines. The lifestyle changes include regular physical activity, weight management, healthy eating. Many medicines like Statins, Cholesterol absorption inhibitors, Bempedoic acid, Bile-acid-binding resins, PCSK9 inhibitors can be used to treat high cholesterol. Many foods can help lower cholesterol like vegetables, fruits, soy food, nuts, legumes, avocado.

If high cholesterol is not treated, then it can cause plaque to build up in arteries. Over time this can reduce arteries, and the condition is known as atherosclerosis which limits the flow of blood through arteries, and there is a higher risk of developing higher risks of a blood clot. Atherosclerosis leads to chronic kidney disease, peripheral vascular disease, high blood pressure, angina, heart attack, stroke.

High cholesterol food consumption –

Many high cholesterol foods are the most nutritious food globally, like whole eggs, full-fat dairy products, liver, fish oil, sardines, shellfish. Many of these foods have high saturated fat, and studies have shown that replacing dietary saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat reduces the risk of heart disease. The role of saturated fat in developing heart disease is controversial.

Conclusion –

Cholesterol is a nutrient that has confused people for a long time. Some cholesterol is needed by our body for various functions to be performed properly. High cholesterol levels are a risk factor for heart disease. In most people, dietary cholesterol has little to no effect on blood cholesterol levels. High cholesterol, if untreated, can cause serious health problems and even death—proper treatment help to control high cholesterol. 

Understanding the type of cholesterol and getting checked regularly is a good way to stay away from the negative effect of cholesterol. Food that increases the good cholesterol level should be included in the diet, while saturated fat should be avoided. A healthy lifestyle should be followed along with regular exercise. Avoiding tobacco products is also a key factor in avoiding high cholesterol. 





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