Are you confused by cholesterol? If so, you’re not alone. There’s quite a bit to keep track of! First, let’s define cholesterol, and then let’s distinguish between the cholesterol in your blood and the cholesterol in your food.
Cholesterol is a waxy like substance made by your liver. Your body needs some cholesterol for important functions in your body. If you don’t eat cholesterol from foods, your body will manufacture it.
What is “good” and “bad” cholesterol?
The cholesterol that gets measured in your blood can be broken down into good and bad cholesterol.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is considered the “good” cholesterol.
HDL cholesterol is like a scavenger-it helps clean up the mess that “bad” cholesterol leaves behind.
Remember: “H” is for “Healthy”!
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol.
LDL cholesterol contributes to heart disease by leaving behind plaque and fatty streaks.
Remember: “L” is for “Less Healthy”.
Do foods have good and bad cholesterol?
Only animal foods contain cholesterol. This includes all meat, dairy, butter, eggs, some seafood, and products made with cream or butter (i.e. pastries, cookies, ice cream, etc.).
The cholesterol in food is not good or bad. However, eating patterns and lifestyle choices help determine if the cholesterol in your blood is good or bad.
Diets high in saturated fats from meat and dairy can increase your bad (LDL) cholesterol.
Diets high in trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils provide a double whammy-they increase your bad (LDL) cholesterol AND decrease your good (HDL) cholesterol.
Smoking also increases your bad (LDL) cholesterol and decreases your good (HDL) cholesterol.
Exercise helps raise your good (HDL) cholesterol
How much cholesterol can I have from food?
There is no specific limit on cholesterol, but the Institute of Medicine recommends “as little as possible.”
So…can I have an egg?
For years, many people shunned eggs for fear of cholesterol. Eggs are a great source of high quality protein. They are also fairly low in calories (about 75 calories for an egg), low in saturated fat, and high in several important vitamins.
While egg yolks have close to 200 milligrams of cholesterol, as already mentioned, other food habits factor into your blood cholesterol levels.
Keep the egg, but skip the butter and bacon.
Although you can't change some factors such as your age, gender, and genetics, you can take control of your diet and lifestyle. A whole food eating pattern combined with other healthy lifestyle practices all contribute to becoming your healthiest self!