Since the 1950s, cholesterol has been demonized for clogging up you arteries, raising blood cholesterol, and being the leading cause of all heart diseases. Because of this, people have been lowering their intake of cholesterol rich foods, and today, cholesterol lowering drugs are a tens of billions of dollar industry. You’ve most likely heard in the past, “Lower your intake of eggs and red meat because they’ll raise your cholesterol!” and you see food labels of “low fat,” “low cholesterol,” “heart healthy” everywhere.
However, deaths and illnesses from heart disease have only declined marginally in the past several decades, and in fact, heart disease is the number 1 leading cause of death in the United States today. The numbers and the modern dietary guidelines show that lowering the dietary intake of cholesterol hasn’t made an impact in lowering blood cholesterol, and in fact, this diet protocol may be doing far more harm than good.
Cholesterol is something that was abundant in our traditional diets and our ancestors didn’t worry about heart disease, cancer, or diabetes like we do today.
How did the myth start?
The diet-heart hypothesis, which states that dietary saturated fats and cholesterol cause heart disease, was first proposed in the 1950s by Ancel Keys. His research was based on a study of 22 countries, and the relationship between fat consumption and deaths from heart disease in each country. He supported his idea by cherry picking 6 (out of 22!) countries that showed a strong correlation of fat consumption and heart disease mortality and making a diagram out of this data. Of course, the diagram showed a perfect correlation. If the rest of the countries were added back in, the diagram would be all over the place!
Using this method, we could prove just about anything in the world. Like, owning an Apple watch is strongly correlated to catching a cold the 1st month you have it. Sound crazy? But that’s exactly what happened.
Heart disease was a growing epidemic at the time and medical establishments and politicians were desperately looking for an explanation for the public, and the diet-heart hypothesis caught on like wildfire.
The truths about cholesterol
Since then, there have been hundreds of studies that disprove the diet-heart hypothesis, but all of them have been ignored by the pharmaceutical and commercial authorities who are raking in billions of dollars from this fad. Here are some facts to know about cholesterol:
1. Cholesterol buildup in the blood vessels is the result of inflammation. Cholesterol is our life saver, coming to rescue the damage caused when our cells are inflamed. If the artery didn’t plaque, it would eventually break and blow out when there’s an inflammation!
2. Inflammation in our body is caused by a high sugar, high carbohydrate diet. Refined and processed foods, including trans fats and industrially processed oils, are the leading cause of the spike in our the blood sugar levels and harmful oxidizing agents which are major causes of inflammation in our body. Over time, cholesterol builds by in order to save us from a full blown inflammation.
3. Your total cholesterol number does not determine your heart disease risk. This number actually indicates that something else is wrong in your body as mentioned above. Better indicators are your HDL to total cholesterol ratio (high is good), and your triglyceride to HDL level (low is good).
4. Cholesterol is ESSENTIAL for our well being. Not only is it required to build and maintain cell membranes, it is a precursor to vitamin D (what most of us are deficient in). If our cell walls are deteriorating and we have a deficiency in our vitamins, our entire system is impacted and cannot function optimally.
5. All our steroid hormones are derived from cholesterol, and these important hormones include cortisol, aldosterone, and your sex hormones! People who go on low-fat diets for a long time often have a difficult time handling stress and suffer from hormonal dysfunctions.
6. Cholesterol converts to bile in the liver. Bile acids help us digest fat. Those who have a hard time digesting a high fat meal indicates that their bile level is low, which can be damaging to to the entire digestive system. You can increase your bile acids by slowly increasing your intake of high-cholesterol foods.
7. Low cholesterol level can be dangerous. The diet-heart hypothesis has convinced the masses that they need to lower their cholesterol sometimes to dangerous levels and this can have detrimental effects, especially when done artificially with pharmaceutical drugs. Research has shown that people with cholesterol less than 180 had double the risk of those at 230 for a hemorrhagic stroke. Not only that, low cholesterol level is linked to memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression. 25% of the cholesterol in our body is found in the brain, so this doesn’t surprise me at all.
8. Factors that raise your risk of heart disease include chronic stress, lack of exercise, smoking, and a high-sugar diet. It is crucial to continuously work on stress management (meditation is key), exercise regularly, and go on a balanced high fat, low sugar diet to keep your heart health in check.
Eating for heart health
So what should you eat to keep your cholesterol balanced? Cholesterol. Fat doesn’t make you fat and cholesterol doesn’t elevate your cholesterol. Cholesterol is a building block of our most essential functions and we cannot thrive without incorporating it into our diet. These are some of the foods that can lower your risk of heart disease and inflammation:
- organic, pasture-raised eggs (especially the yolks!)
- grass fed red meat and liver
- fatty fish
- fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha
Along with managing stress and moving your body regularly, focusing on eating fresh, whole foods that are unprocessed and come from nature is the basic formula of a heart healthy diet!
“Mother Nature’s no dingbat. She didn’t package the good stuff with bad stuff so she could watch us struggle for thousands of years until the invention of Egg Beaters.”
– Liz Wolfe, Eat the Yolks