Sustainable Nutrition

Does Cholesterol Matter? Not The Way You Think

Written By: Kripa Jalan

Does Cholesterol Matter? Not The Way You Think

It’s often made out to be the bad guy in today’s medical world.

So much so, that the word ‘cholesterol’ is enough to have you thinking of clogged arteries and heart attacks and have you scurrying to the cardiologist; in case your levels fall beyond the ‘normal’ range.

Truthfully, cholesterol can be a complicated topic, especially since the mainstream narrative (based on partially outdated science) –oversimplifies cholesterol into “good” vs. “bad” and misrepresents cholesterol’s role in our health.

But first, what is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is an essential molecule without which there would be no life and it's so important that virtually every cell in the body is capable of synthesizing it. Without it, we wouldn’t have bile acids, Vitamin D, or steroid hormones (including sex hormones.)

Do you have a liver? Then you produce cholesterol. So, it’s safe to say each one of us has it.

Definitions of Common Terms

  1. LDL-C (typically called ‘bad’ cholesterol): Transports cholesterol and fat from the liver to the rest of the body.
  2. HDL-C cholesterol (sometimes called ‘good’ cholesterol): This brings cholesterol back to the liver for recycling and processing.
  3. Triglycerides: A type of lipid stored in fat cells, when calories go unused.
  4. Total cholesterol: This is simply the total amount of cholesterol in your blood. 

When reviewing bloodwork, you should look at the results with a fine-tooth comb. Just falling within the ‘normal’ ranges does not mean that you’re in the clear. You’re gunning for levels that are optimal, not just normal.

The LDL Myth

Now, the one thing that may have stood out to you is that LDL is sometimes called “bad cholesterol.”

But interestingly, LDL particles come in two sizes; (1) small and dense; and (2) big and fluffy. The smaller, denser ones are the more concerning ones.

LDL cholesterol on its own doesn’t tell us that much unless it’s at very rare high levels. What matters more is what types of LDL particles we have. 

You can get a sense of it from your triglyceride-to-HDL ratio.

High triglycerides alone can increase the risk of a heart attack. The ratio of triglycerides to HDL is a far stronger predictor of a heart attack, than the conventional LDL/HDL ratio.

Where does food come in?

If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol, chances are you’ve been told to avoid egg yolks.

But it’s important to note that only about 25% of our total circulating cholesterol, is tied to what we eat. Plus, the amount we absorb varies widely depending on several factors.

Cholesterol is not inherently bad, and for the vast majority of people, dietary cholesterol plays a small role in your total cholesterol levels.

However, food plays a massive role in boosting your heart health:

  • Certain fats do harm your health, but they may not be the fats you think they are. “Bad” fats include hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats, and polyunsaturated industrial seed oils such as corn, vegetable, soy, and canola oil. On the other hand, studies show that eating healthy fats (raw nuts, seeds, avocados, etc.) can fix your cholesterol by increasing the good kind and lowering the bad kind.
  • Minimize your consumption of refined sugars, refined carbohydrates, as well as ultra-processed foods.
  • Include an array of bright-coloured fruits and vegetables.

This information does not constitute medical advice. This is compiled for educational purposes. Your healthcare practitioner knows you best. Talk to them for specific questions about your lab results and treatment.

If you’re looking for more support in understanding your lipid profile and ways to support your heart health through your lifestyle, we can help!