When we’re talking about about cholesterol, we are talking about two different things. It confuses matters a bit…so let’s dispel this cholesterol confusion.
Cholesterol is a nutrient that you can find on the Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods. It’s a natural substance. It’s necessary for your body. Cholesterol is found only in foods derived from animals. Similar substances are found in plant based foods, but they don’t have the same effect on our health. Our bodies produce cholesterol as well.
The word cholesterol is also used to refer to several laboratory values (i.e. blood tests) used as an indicator of health. Specfically, High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL), Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and Very Low-Density Lipoprotein (VLDL) are the three main types of cholesterol that is tested. High levels of LDL and VLDL cholesterol are associated with the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
Solving the Cholesterol Confusion
The problem is that one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other. High dietary intake of cholesterol doesn’t necessarily result in high levels of LDL and VLDL. In fact, high intakes of saturated fat (which, from animal sources, also provides cholesterol) are more clearly associated with the negative effects of high blood cholesterol. Additionally, your body may just make more cholesterol than it needs, and so other means of dealing with the cholesterol may be required other than a low-cholesterol diet
So, avoid the cholesterol confusion: Know the difference between dietary cholesterol and cholesterol as it is tested for. If you cholesterol is high, reducing cholesterol in your diet may not be enough to make a difference. Reducing saturated fat intake, increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, taking supplements that help reduce cholesterol, and getting more exercise are good strategies to help balance the cholesterol in your body.
Check out the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics article here, for a more in-depth review of cholesterol and health, or look at our blog posts for more articles about nutrition