Dietary Cholesterol: Friend or Foe?

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Dietary Cholesterol: Friend or Foe

Should we still be avoiding cholesterol in foods? For a long time, food sources of cholesterol have been demonized by health care professionals and the media alike.

However, decades of research now shows that intake of dietary cholesterol from foods like eggs, shellfish, and even certain types of red meat has little or no impact on the level of cholesterol in the blood of most healthy individuals.

While consuming foods high in cholesterol does not necessarily equate to high blood cholesterol, foods high in certain types of fats do play a significant role in raising blood cholesterol levels.

Unhealthy Fats

Trans fats, hydrogenated, and partially hydrogenated fats such as those found in fried or fast foods, many packaged foods, as well as processed meats like bacon, sausages, and hot dogs are all linked to increased risk of heart disease and/or elevated LDL cholesterol. [1]

Saturated animal fats, particularly those high in palmitic acid, a fatty acid found in grain-fed meats, have also been linked to elevated blood cholesterol levels.[2]

Dietary Cholesterol and Blood Cholesterol

So why does intake of dietary cholesterol have little to do with the level of cholesterol in our blood? Cholesterol made by our body contributes to the majority of the cholesterol level in our blood, with dietary cholesterol intake only accounting for 20%. Our body uses cholesterol to make steroid hormones including all of the sex and adrenal hormones, as well as vitamin D.

By understanding the vital importance of the role of cholesterol for the production of these hormones, researchers have discovered that the real answer is not to limit dietary intake, but rather to slow down the oxidation of “bad” or LDL cholesterol.

LDL cholesterols that oxidize in the bloodstream are the real culprit that causes irritation to the blood vessels and pre-dispose a person to heart disease.

What Causes LDL to Oxidize?

Consuming partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats, or certain saturated fats, a diet high in refined sugars, alcohol use, and cigarette smoking cause the oxidation of LDL in our bloodstream. Over-consuming sugar and refined carbohydrates is often a reason for elevated oxidized cholesterol.
This has led health professionals and advisors to ease some of their previous restrictions on fat and cholesterol, but also to recommend cutting back on added sugars.

When looking at cholesterol and the type of dietary fats you consume, there are a few things to consider:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in reducing inflammation in the body – a contributing factor to heart disease: Flaxseeds, chia seeds, and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are excellent food sources of omega-3s. Research has also shown that men with the highest levels of inflammation are three times as likely to suffer a heart attack and two times as likely to have a stroke.

    A greater dietary supply of EPA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid, such as that found in ocean fish or supplemented flaxseed or fish oils, would reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. [3]
  • Not all animal fats are created equal: If you are going to have animal foods in your diet, choose meats, eggs, and butter, and full-fat dairy products from grass-fed animals rather than grain-fed. These choices provide higher sources of omega-3 fatty acids and less pro-inflammatory omega-6.

    Research also shows that grass-finished beef contains more cholesterol-neutral fatty acids than cholesterol-elevating saturated fatty acids such as those found in grain-fed animal foods. [4]

While food choices are a cornerstone to health, a handful of supplements can also support the reduction of LDL cholesterol levels and maintenance of healthy cholesterol balance.

Omega-3: For those who don’t consume much fish, an omega 3 supplement can be an excellent and convenient choice. Omega-3 is often bundled with other heart-healthy nutrients like CoQ10 to help lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Flaxseed oil: For vegans, vegetarians, or those who don’t consume much fish, supplementing with ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil provides a good source of omega 3 fatty acids.

Probiotics: Probiotics are “good” bacteria that are known to contribute to a healthy digestive tract. More recently, a meta-analysis (a study of multiple studies) has confirmed that they may also help to decrease LDL (“bad” cholesterol) as well as total cholesterol. [5]

Probiotics can be found in fermented products such as yogurt or kefir, as well as in supplement form.

By making healthier food choices and incorporating a few supplements, cholesterol levels can often be managed naturally. Make sure to connect with your healthcare provider before taking supplements as there can be contraindications with certain medications.

Webber Naturals

Webber Naturals

Nutritionists & health experts, bringing you content to help you live your best life, naturally

References :
  1. Retrieved from:
  2. Grundy SM. Influence of stearic acid on cholesterol metabolism relative to other long-chain fatty acids. Am J Clin Nutr. 1994; 60(6Suppl):986S-990S. Retrieved from:
  3. Ridker, PM, Cushman M, Stampfer MJ, et al. Inflammation, aspirin, and the risk of cardiovascular disease in apparently healthy men.* N Engl J Med*. 1997; 336(14):973-9.
  4. Daley C., Abbott A., Doyle P., et al. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nut J. 2010; 9:10.
  5. Shimizu M, Hashiguchi M, Shiga T, et al. Meta-Analysis: Effects of probiotic supplementation on lipid profiles in normal to mildly hypercholesterolemic individuals. PLoS One. 2015; 10(10):e0139795.

Other References

  1. U.S. Advisers rethink cholesterol risk from foods. 2. Cholesterol: Your body is incapable of making hormones without it. 3.O calls for less sugar and eases cholesterol and fat restrictions.

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