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Cholesterol rich foods and heart health

Eating eggs without the yolk and abstaining from eating prawns — Sound familiar? These may be some of the advice you’ve heard for lowering cholesterol. Cholesterol has received flak over the years, due to its role in heart disease. Excess cholesterol in the bloodstream plays a role in developing plaque, resulting in artery clogging and potentially stroke, heart attack, or even heart failure.

But wait, there's more!

Cholesterol isn’t all that bad. After all, it is used to make vitamin D (which helps intestinal absorption of calcium), hormones (testosterone and estrogen), as well as bile acids (which dissolve fats). In fact, cholesterol production is so vital that the liver and intestines make around 80% of the cholesterol needed for you to stay healthy.

Atop of that, not all cholesterol are bad. Two main cholesterol types in our blood are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

LDL Cholesterol

Also known as ‘bad’ cholesterol as excess of it remains in the blood, deposited in the artery walls, causing plaque. The more plaque that accumulates, the narrower the arteries become, and eventually blood supply to organs like the heart is reduced.

HDL Cholesterol

Thankfully, HDLs, or ‘good’ cholesterol serve as “vacuum cleaners”, picking up excess cholesterol in artery walls, circulation, and from plaques. They carry this excess cholesterol back to the liver for excretion.

So just load up on “high HDL” foods and avoid “high LDL” foods, right? Or maybe just avoid cholesterol-rich foods altogether? Well, this may come as a surprise but a high-cholesterol food doesn’t mean an increase in blood cholesterol levels. When you eat large amounts of high-cholesterol foods like eggs, your liver accommodates by producing less cholesterol. As a result, your blood cholesterol levels will stay about the same or just increase slightly. Conversely, if you get too little cholesterol from food, your liver will increase production.

Furthermore, as cholesterol is removed via bile and the stool, a major reason for high cholesterol levels is due to constipation. During constipation, approximately 94% of bile (and cholesterol) is reabsorbed into the bloodstream. As majority of cholesterol is produced by the body, perhaps dietary intake should not be the main focus, but instead poor elimination of it. Consuming soluble fiber such as oatmeal, whole grains and legumes can help by binding to cholesterol and thereafter, removing it from the body.

Saturated & Trans fat, the biggest culprits

However, that isn’t to say dietary intake does not play a role on cholesterol levels. Saturated fats and trans fats in food are the biggest culprits. They can cause great increase in LDL cholesterol level, while unsaturated fats help by decreasing LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol.

Of course, cholesterol-rich foods that are inflammatory should also be consumed sparingly, as it will increase one’s chances of developing heart disease. This includes packaged foods like chips and processed meats such as bacon. Non-cholesterol food sources such as alcohol, sugar and caffeine serve as stimulants that can cause the liver to produce more cholesterol.

Cholesterol rich foods for heart health

Then could foods that are both cholesterol-rich and good for heart health exist? Yes!

First up, eggs. Research shows that eggs (containing nearly 190mg of cholesterol / 50g egg) consumption has little effect on LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol level may even improve. It has been shown that individuals can consume up to 2 eggs daily, which helps increase HDL cholesterol and keeping LDL cholesterol unchanged.

Not only that, lean beef, specifically, choice strip loin steak (8% fat) and de-skinned chicken breast (7% fat) have both shown significant decreases in average total blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels of high cholesterol individuals. Other cuts of beef and chicken below 10% fat includes: For beef, eye of round roast and top round roast, and for chicken, thighs without the skin and fat trimmed.

The fact is, not all high-cholesterol foods are bad for you. Some may even improve HDL cholesterol levels and your heart health. Our bodies need cholesterol to thrive, but of course, high cholesterol levels, especially that of LDL, may cause blood flow problems, leading to heart diseases. That’s why, maintaining healthy levels of both LDL and HDL cholesterol is important.

If you adhere to a well balanced, healthy diet low in saturated fats and trans fats, there’s no need to forgo egg yolks or prawns anytime soon! However, it’s always good to keep in mind that moderation is key.


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