Cholesterol and its effects on the body have been the subject of many news articles for many years now, so we should all be pretty well-versed on the topic, right? Test your Cholesterol IQ with this quiz. You might be surprised by the answers!
TRUE or FALSE?
1. Eating dietary cholesterol (such as in eggs and shellfish) raises your cholesterol levels and therefore your chances of heart disease.
2. Cholesterol is bad for you and is found only in foods.
3. The best way to protect against heart disease is to follow a low fat, low calorie diet.
4. Cholesterol can be only affected by diet and drugs.
5. High cholesterol can be hereditary and may not even be a valid indicator of heart health.
Although you may have heard many of the statements above, they’re all FALSE, except number five, which is TRUE. In the 1960’s, when cholesterol research was instigated, it was initially theorized that blood cholesterol values were a valid indicator of fats in the arteries, leading to clogged arteries and heart disease.
Over the last 40 years, new research has shown that cholesterol isn’t as valid an indicator as originally perceived. Unfortunately, an entire revenue source has been created from cholesterol lowering drugs, perhaps explaining why this more recent research has been slow to emerge from the medical community (although it is available over the internet). Let’s take a look:
1. Eating dietary cholesterol (such as eggs and shellfish) raises your cholesterol and chances of getting heart disease. FALSE!
No way. Eggs and shrimp are finally off the hook! There is no evidence that eating foods with cholesterol in them adversely affects your body’s cholesterol levels. In fact, eggs contain a substance called lecithin, which decreases the effects of cholesterol on the body. And eggs are a good source of protein. Shrimp are a delightful treat, full of omega-3 fatty acids. So eat up!
2. Cholesterol is bad for you and is found only in foods. FALSE!
Cholesterol is NOT bad for you. In fact, it is essential for life. Among other things, it’s necessary for brain-cell function, it’s the naturally occurring building block of all hormones, including progesterone, estrogen, testosterone and cortisol, and it provides the body with an effective way to store carbohydrate (sugar and starch) calories. Your body makes cholesterol constantly, and eating cholesterol has little if any effect on that process. About 80 percent of the body’s cholesterol is synthesized from carbohydrates. Getting the picture here? Cholesterol is synthesized mostly from carbs, NOT fats . . .
The body creates two types of cholesterol–HDL and LDL. HDL, known as “good” cholesterol, protects against heart disease. LDL is known as “bad” cholesterol, but it isn’t really bad in and of itself. It just oxidizes more easily. It is the oxidization of LDL that can lead to artery-blocking plaque, which can raise your risk of heart disease. Antioxidants–particularly Vitamin E–protect against heart disease by preventing this oxidization.
3. The best way to protect against heart disease is to follow a very low fat, low calorie diet. FALSE!
Low calorie and low fat diets are typically high in refined carbohydrates, the opposite of what you need for good health. People who eat vegetables, fiber, and moderate amounts of nuts, hormone-free meats, seafood, and healthy fats have far fewer incidents of heart disease deaths than those who eat extremely low fat, high carbohydrate diets. Simple, refined carbs, such as sugar, pasta, crackers, corn, chips, white rice, potatoes and breads, stimulate insulin production. Insulin reduces HDL (“good”) cholesterol and leaves more LDL (“bad”) cholesterol circulating in the body, where it can become oxidized and cause artery-blocking plaque.
So What Should You Eat for a Healthy Heart?
- Unprocessed vegetables, meaning not canned, boxed, or otherwise cooked to death. If you can’t eat fresh veggies, then choose frozen. Lightly steam or stir fry vegetables, or eat them raw. Never boil or overcook. They will lose all nutrition this way.
- Fresh fruit (Avoid fruit with high glycemic index, such as dried fruit, fruit juice, bananas, mangos (darn it!), and sweetened applesauce.)
- Eggs, moderate amounts of meats, such as chicken or turkey, that have been raised without hormone treatments for growth stimulation.
- Seafood, especially Wild Salmon. Farm raised Atlantic Salmon that is commonly found at the local grocery store has very little, if any, beneficial fatty acids. Wild Salmon, especially those from the Pacific (Alaska) are highly preferred for nutrition and taste. Grilled, baked or poached, wild salmon is a life-saving food.
- Nuts, Seeds, Legumes
- Garlic, Onions
- Monosaturated Fats such as olive oil and grapeseed oil (Grapeseed oil is excellent for sauté and stir-fry. It has a higher flash point for quicker cooking than olive oil, is tasteless, and contains the same healthful fats.)
Foods to Avoid
- Refined Carbohydrates (“any white food”)–white rice, white flour, sugar, corn, corn syrup, baked potatoes, pasta
- Too much protein and saturated fats from processed red meat
- Processed or canned food
- Trans-fatty acids (margarine, hydrogenated oils), especially those heated, as in fried foods
- Soft drinks, coffee, hard liquor
- Milk and ice cream
4. Cholesterol can only be affected by diet and drugs. FALSE!
Perhaps you have discovered through routine blood work and physical exams that your cholesterol values have increased, even though your diet hasn’t changed. Or maybe you’ve “improved” your diet and had no change in your cholesterol levels. A sluggish thyroid will virtually guarantee an increase in your blood cholesterol values and more importantly, your LDL/HDL ratio. People who take cholesterol-lowering drugs must have periodic blood tests. Why? To find out if their liver is becoming toxic from the very medicine supposedly prescribed to improve their health!
5. High cholesterol can be hereditary and may not even be a valid indicator of health. This is TRUE!
You can inherit naturally occurring cholesterol values that are higher than the 200 maximum value recommended by medical groups. In fact, studies have shown that there is no correlation between cholesterol values and longevity, and there is even little valid evidence that high cholesterol levels lead to heart disease.
And now, here’s an extra credit question . . .
Which of the following people do you think is more likely to develop heart disease?
A. Someone eating tofu-broccoli salad because he’s feeling guilty and he knows it’s good for him.
B. A parent sharing his favorite ice cream with his much adored children.
Are you surprised to learn the answer is B?
Researchers at the Ohio State University inadvertently discovered that happy eaters are healthy eaters. Rabbits were genetically bred to develop hardening of the arteries and coronary artery disease. Then they were all fed a high-fat diet to speed up the process.
At the end of the study, a select group of rabbits were discovered to have clean, healthy arteries, while the rest developed artery disease as expected. The difference between the two groups? It turned out that the young students who’d been feeding the group of rabbits with clean arteries had petted and played with the rabbits before giving them their food. (This study has since been replicated, suggesting a link between happiness and good digestion!)
Of course, eating ice cream for every meal isn’t a great idea. But remember–for a healthy heart, be mindful when you eat and enjoy your food!
Sources: “Commonsense Guide to a Healthy Heart” by John. R. Lee, M.D.
“Healthy Hormones, Healthy Life” by Dr. Eric Berg
Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, by Christiane Northrup, M.D.