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The Truth About Cholesterol: Does it Really Cause Heart Disease?

Written by Ali Donahue
The Truth About Cholesterol: Does it Really Cause Heart Disease?

Quick Take

Confused about cholesterol? You’re not alone. Here's what you need to know about dietary cholesterol to keep your heart healthy and happy (or reverse high cholesterol if you've already got it!).

Before We Begin: Miss Eggs? We've Got You Covered

Need a quick and easy breakfast to replace your morning eggs? Try the MamaSezz Breakfast Scramble topped with salsa, avocado, green onion, or even plain! Plenty of protein, none of the cholesterol. 

On This Page

What is Cholesterol?

Why "Too Much Cholesterol" is a Problem for your Heart

What is Too Much Cholesterol?

Wait, I Thought Eggs Are Healthy?

What Diet is Best for Lowering Cholesterol?

Key Takeaways

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a wax-like compound that's naturally found in our cells.

Wait, if it occurs in the body naturally then how can it be bad for your health? Good question.

Heres the deal: cholesterol is produced by the liver and helps build cell membranes, maintain Vitamin D levels in the body, assist digestion, and produce hormones. And while a small amount of naturally occurring cholesterol is necessary for all of those important things, when we eat foods that are high in cholesterol we run into problems. 

Why "Too Much Cholesterol" is a Problem for Your Heart

Atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries, is the leading cause of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular conditions. What leads to this hardening of arteries and eventual heart disease? Often times we can look to our plates.

Animal products such as red meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy, are high in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as the "bad cholesterol," and contribute to the development of heart disease. 

When we eat these foods, LDL is gathering in the endothelial lining of the vessels that supply the heart with blood, and slowly restrict blood flow so that the heart is getting less and less oxygen, causing the muscle to work a lot more, and get tired.

In some cases, pieces of fatty deposits are released from the vessel walls and travel through the blood system, getting stuck in narrow blood vessels, eventually completely restricting oxygen supply to important organs.  If this happens in a heart vessel, it causes a heart attack, while if it happens in a vessel that provides the brain with blood, it causes a stroke.   

What is Too Much Cholesterol?

The ideal blood cholesterol level is below 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), though 93 million Americans have levels about 200 and 29 million have levels above 240

When does high cholesterol start? Early, at least in America.

Studies show this condition begins during childhood, which is why it's never too early to begin a healthy lifestyle as it decreases the risk substantially of developing heart disease later in life.

Wait, I Thought Eggs Are Healthy? 

Eggs are such a cornerstone of the American diet, a high-protein breakfast option that's quick and easy and in seemingly everything from scrambles to baked goods. And they've often been touted as a healthy option thanks to their nutritional profile: protein, B12, Omega-3s, selenium, iron, zinc, copper, vitamins D, B6, B12. 

But unfortunately, the cholesterol levels in eggs outweigh the benefits. Too much dietary cholesterol isn't just associated with higher heart disease risk, the regular consumption of eggs and other high cholesterol animal products promotes cancer growth and Alzheimer's disease, too.

What Diet is Best for Lowering Cholesterol?

cholesterol

The good news is, just as diet can contribute to high cholesterol, the foods we eat can also have a healing effect.

Studies show having a total cholesterol of even slightly less than 200 (less than 150 is generally recommended for optimal cardiovascular health), adds another four to nine years in life expectancy compared to people that have total cholesterol of 240 and above. 

Need to lower your cholesterol? A healthy, plant-based diet. Plants have zero cholesterol and promote a healthy, strong cardiovascular system. And the powerful antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that are found in abundance in whole plant-based foods help prevent heart disease and even reverse it

So load up on a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. And don't forget to add in regular moderate exercise and avoid tobacco and alcohol to keep severe heart disease at bay. 

Key Takeaways

  • Cholesterol is naturally-occurring in the body necessary for human life, but when we eat too much dietary cholesterol, it becomes a problem for our heart and health.
  • Animal products such as red meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy, are high in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as the "bad cholesterol," and contribute to the development of heart disease. 
  • The foods we eat can also have a preventative and/or healing effect – to lower your cholesterol or keep it in check load up on a whole food plant-based diet.

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Rafaela Michailidou is a Vegan Lifestyle Coach, and a freelance health and wellness content writer, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.

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