Is Cholesterol Good or Bad for You? Does it really cause Heart Disease?

For many years, a general public and the medical community have linked eggs to high blood cholesterol level and an increased risk of heart diseases. But, with changing times and knowledge upgradation studies have now found that cholesterol is not a bad nutrient for your heart health. In fact, the relationship between dietary cholesterol and the risk of heart diseases has been over-exaggerated. Cholesterol is an important component of the cells and organisms. (1)

Good side of Cholesterol

Let’s have a look at the good side of the cholesterol. Here are the functions performed by cholesterol in the body:

  • Cholesterol is found in every cell of the human body and without cholesterol the body cannot function efficiently.
  • Cholesterol plays a crucial role in the production of hormones in the body. It is converted to steroid hormones in the ovaries, testes and the adrenal glands. Steroid hormones help control inflammation, salt water balance, immune functions, metabolism and development of sexual characteristics.
  • Cholesterol is the structural component, in other words, the building blocks of the cells. It acts as a protective barrier and makes up the structure of each cell in the body.
  • Cholesterol, also plays a vital role in the synthesis of vitamin D. Without cholesterol, vitamin D cannot be synthesized in the skin.
  • Cholesterol helps the liver to produce bile, a substance that is required by the body for the digestion of fat from the food we eat.
  • Your brain needs cholesterol to carry out important brain functions, which include memory and learning (2, 3)

Human liver produces cholesterol, which is required to carry out so many essential functions. Eating foods high in trans-fat put you at an increased risk of developing heart diseases. Studies have observed that eating whole eggs, pure ghee and shellfish do not increase your risk of heart diseases. One can definitely enjoy these foods, but in moderation because anything in excess (even water) is not good. (4, 5, 6)

The presence of cholesterol in atherosclerotic plaque was first reported in the year 1843. Since then, people and medical experts have been blaming cholesterol for the damage caused to the heart. But, this is not completely true! Other culprits are a greater concern. So, if cholesterol is not the culprit, then what is damaging your heart and creating a havoc in the body. Let’s reveal the truth, its none other than:

  • Refined sugar
  • Processed foods
  • Trans fat
  • Inactive lifestyle

Dietary guidelines have always recommended to restrict the intake of saturated fat because it increases the risk of heart diseases. But, an excellent study published in the year 2016 has found that refined sugar, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup and refined carbohydrates increase the burden of heart diseases and are a bigger problem as compared to saturated fat, fat found in egg yolks, whole milk and meat. But, processed foods that contain saturated fat should be restricted strictly.

This study further says that, there is no relationship between total cholesterol level and heart diseases, but there is definitely a link between LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol and the heart. Saturated fats are a group of compounds and their effects differ based on the presence of specific fatty acids. Palmitate increases the risk of heart diseases but stearate has a neutral effect on the total and LDL blood cholesterol level.

A diet high in refined sugar and refined carbohydrates increases the blood level of total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and negative changes in the heart health. Sugar increases the myocardial oxygen demand and platelet adhesion and aggregation. (7)

Vanaspati ghee and margarine are high in trans-fat. Studies have found that trans-fat increases the level of LDL bad cholesterol and reduces the level of HDL good cholesterol. It was further reported that, trans fat increases the risk of heart diseases than any other micronutrient. When the carbohydrate calories are replaced with trans-fat calories by 2%, the risk of heart diseases is doubled. (8)

Bottom-line: Is cholesterol really your body’s enemy? Does avoiding natural food sources such as eggs, whole milk and meat really help?

It’s better to avoid processed foods and machine-made food rather than avoiding these natural food products.

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Sneha Sadhwani

Dt. Sneha Sadhwani Sewlani (B.Sc. Food Science & Nutrition, PG in Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics) is Clinical Nutritionist & Certified Diabetes Educator and Certified Lifestyle Coach. She has expertise in clinical nutrition and 4 years’ experience working as Clinical Nutritionist and Dietician. She has been associated as a nutritionist with LTMG Hospital and S. L. Raheja Fortis Institute in Mumbai. She has also her own private practice where she offers a wide range of different programs, including weight loss, weight gain, diabetes management, diet plan according to diseases and much more through her in-person and online consultation. Sneha strongly believes that a healthy diet and lifestyle modifications are the best ways to prevent and treat diseases. She says, “Eating healthy is an art, be an artist of your own mind and body”.

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