Does The Cholesterol In Food Matter?

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Canada has one of the longest life expectancies in the world. Many of the top causes of death such as cancer and cardiovascular disease can be prevented to a large degree by lifestyle including achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, avoiding tobacco use, moderate alcohol consumption and by following a healthy diet. Cardiovascular disease, in particular heart disease and stroke, are very amenable to diet; eating minimally-processed, wholesome foods rich in nutrients and antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties gives you the biggest bang for your nutritional buck when it comes to prevention.

 

The cholesterol in food and blood cholesterol. What’s the connection?

As one of several risk factors for cardiovascular disease, elevated blood (serum) cholesterol stands out. As a marker of an underlying metabolic dysfunction, blood cholesterol levels are the primary target of medical intervention when it comes to prevention [primarily because LDL cholesterol is easily targeted with statins). Medications will help to lower blood cholesterol but they also have anti-inflammatory properties as well which account for some of their benefit but that is never acknowledged. Historically, the goal of nutritional therapy has been to help lower both total and HDL cholesterol levels by reducing production in the liver by eating less saturated and trans fat, and by increasing removal of cholesterol via the stool with dietary fiber.

 

It was once thought that eating less dietary cholesterol might help with this as well because on the surface it seemed to make sense; eating less cholesterol would mean less cholesterol circulating in the blood after digestion. In a well-meaning but misguided fashion this was part of the dietary guidelines for the prevention and treatment of elevated blood cholesterol (a.k.a. dyslipidemia) for decades despite there never really being any meaningful evidence to support this recommendation or hypothesis. It’s important to note, that the recommendation to “eat less” cholesterol was never meant to be interpreted as “eat no” cholesterol which is why foods that naturally contain cholesterol like lobster, shrimp and eggs where never ‘off the menu’ because eliminating nutritious foods wouldn’t be wise dietary advice.

 

 

 

Fast forward to today. Most governmental health officials now recognize the fact that blood cholesterol is controlled by the liver; when we eat less cholesterol the liver produces more and vice versa, when we get more cholesterol from the foods we eat, the liver simply produces less. Dietary cholesterol has virtually no impact on the amount of cholesterol found in the blood and dietary cholesterol does not impact cardiovascular disease risk. It is for this reason that the latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 states that dietary cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern, and that the overall dietary pattern (both in terms of the quality and the quantity of food choices) is more important than focusing on any one nutrient.

 

 

I’ve written about the role of saturated fat on cholesterol levels and overall cardiovascular disease risk before. In a nutshell, saturated fat is not the evil du jour it was once thought to be, read my post 5 Reasons Why I’m Not Worrying About Saturated Fat, as well as my post that show why when it comes to preventing cardiovascular disease, there’s more to focus on than LDL cholesterol, see Heart Health Is More Than Just Lowering LDL ‘Cholesterol’.

 

Cholesterol is vital for health

The war against cholesterol is finally starting to wane and with good reason; cholesterol has many vital functions. It is a critical component of cell membranes without which cell structure would suffer, it is the precursor to all steroid hormones like estrogen and testosterone, it is the backbone of vitamin D [produced when sunlight interacts with the cholesterol in our skin], is used to make bile, a key player in the digestion and absorption of dietary fats, and is vital for the health of our brain cells. Memory and learning wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for cholesterol.

 

 

Bottom line

Whether it’s whole eggs or a liquid egg product, the presence of any cholesterol is not a concern. In fact most of the nutrients are found in the yolk such as vitamin A, phosphorus, folate, choline, carotenoids like alpha and beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. The amount of cholesterol found in Eggs Creation is but a trace but because it’s present in the product, it has to be listed on the Nutrition Facts Table.

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