Cholesterol is one of those health and diet buzzwords that we’re all supposed to care about, but which isn’t always so clearly understood. Most people know that there’s “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol, and that having high cholesterol is generally not good. We also know that there’s cholesterol in the foods we eat, and for years we’ve been told over and over to avoid it.
But the truth is that when you talk about dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol you are really talking about two different things, and the connection between them is neither direct nor entirely clear. In fact, what one has to do with the other has been a topic of contention in the nutrition world for decades.
And chances are, if you’re worried about how much cholesterol you’re getting from your diet, you probably don’t need to be. So before you order another egg-white omelet, read this.
Dietary cholesterol isn’t really the culprit that raises your cholesterol levels.
It would make sense that eating cholesterol would necessarily raise your blood cholesterol level, which in turn raises your risk for heart disease. But that’s not really how it works.
First of all, your body requires cholesterol for necessary functions like hormone production and digestion. What’s more, your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, producing most of it in the liver and sending it into the bloodstream to get used elsewhere. Therefore, whether you have high or low cholesterol is largely determined by your genetics, not your diet.
The food you eat can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood, but not in the way you might think. When you look at the foods that are responsible for even a small uptick in blood cholesterol levels, it’s not those high in cholesterol that have the greatest impact. “Your liver produces more cholesterol when you eat a diet high in saturated and trans fats,” the American Heart Association states.