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Why You Should No Longer Worry About Cholesterol in Food

Genetics appear to play a stronger role in heart disease

man peeling an egg cholesterol

High levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood, which have been linked to heart disease, are still a health concern.

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But evidence shows people no longer have to be concerned about eating foods that are high in cholesterol. What’s changed is that many researchers and physicians believe that eating cholesterol-rich foods such as eggs may not affect the cholesterol that is in your blood.

“However, people with certain health problems, such as diabetes, should continue to avoid cholesterol-rich foods,” says cardiologist Steven Nissen, MD.

It’s complicated

Is cholesterol good for you? Is cholesterol bad for you? It’s complicated.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that ultimately ends up in the walls of arteries. It causes the plaque that lead to heart attacks and strokes. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines call for a daily cholesterol limit of 300 milligrams.

The relationship between cholesterol and the body is extremely complicated. Some of the ways its complicated are:

  • The body regulates how much cholesterol is in your blood.
  • There’s different kinds of cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein or LDL (bad) cholesterol contributes to plaque buildup along with triglycerides, another lipid. High-density lipoprotein or HDL (good) cholesterol discourages plaque buildup.
  • LDL is the bad cholesterol that you should avoid because it can increase your risk of heart disease.
  • The way people process cholesterol differs. Some people appear to be more vulnerable to cholesterol-rich diets.

“Your genetic makeup – not diet – is the driving force behind cholesterol levels, says Dr. Nissen. “The body creates cholesterol in amounts much larger than what you can eat, so avoiding foods that are high in cholesterol won’t affect your blood cholesterol levels very much.”

About 85% of the cholesterol in the circulation is manufactured by the body in the liver. It isn’t coming directly from the cholesterol that you eat, according to Dr. Nissen.

It’s also likely that people with family history of heart disease share common environments that may increase their risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What you should worry about

Should you actually worry about cholesterol in food? The greater danger for everyone is in foods that are high in trans fats.

“Those often appear on food labels as hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” he says. “Those types of fats do tend to raise cholesterol and do tend to increase the risk of heart disease.”

All in all, look for trans fat and saturated fat on labels at the grocery store. The American Heart Association recommends limiting dietary saturated fat intake and focusing more on eating fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean animal protein or plant protein sources.​

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