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Is consuming cholesterol good or bad?

August 11, 2017

The world of nutrition can be confusing with new research coming out all the time. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as we still learning a lot about human nutrition. The key for me and anyone in the industry is to stay up to date so that we can spread the correct message. 


One of the debates in recent times in nutrition is whether cholesterol is bad. Specifically, whether consuming foods that are high in cholesterol is bad.  


If I were to speak to the older generation about nutrition, they would almost always demonise eggs, butter and saturated fat. They were taught that cholesterol was something bad and that it should be kept to a minimum. This myth still proceeds to today. 


In fact, we are learning more and more about cholesterol, and the new body of evidence suggests something different. 


Let's get into the science of cholesterol first. Cholesterol is a waxy substance required for the proper function of cells and is present in every cell in the body. Cholesterol is produced in the body and needed for the production of vitamin D, bile salts and hormones. It's clear that are body needs cholesterol for normal function, so what's the problem with consuming it?


First of all, there are two main types of cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein). HDL is often referred to as good cholesterol, and LDL is labelled as bad. Too much LDL circulating your arteries will result in the arteries clogging up and could lead to a heart attack. This is why they are referred to as the bad cholesterol. The good thing is that HDL help clears up your arteries of circulating deposits from LDL (2, 3, 5). 


The danger lies in the amount of circulating blood cholesterol. Therefore to control blood cholesterol levels and the health implications you need to control the ratio of LDL to HDL, not just total cholesterol levels. There are some lifestyle factors you can use to help manage this:


1. Exercise more as you'll produce more HDL (6)

2. Don't Smoke as you will destroy HDL (4)

3. Limit alcohol consumption as it will disrupt HDL and LDL ratio (7)

4. Consume more fibrous foods as this will reduce LDL (1)


The ratio of LDL to HDL dictates your risk factor of having a heart attack, not total cholesterol levels. 


Don't fear foods high in cholesterol as it's not directly correlated to heart complications. Foods such as eggs, butter and liver are all high in cholesterol, but an increase in dietary cholesterol is not linked to an increase in blood cholesterol. 


Consuming dietary cholesterol is not bad, what is bad is leading an unhealthy lifestyle of not exercising, smoking, drinking excessively and consuming a diet high of processed food and low in fibrous foods. Focus on controlling those factors that will have the biggest influence on circulating blood cholesterol and stop worrying so much about consuming dietary cholesterol.





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Alex Mateus





  1. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/69/1/30.long

  2. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/77/5/1146.full.pdf+html">

  3. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/73/5/885.full#ref-9

  4. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/128/9/1450.long

  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC162260/

  6. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/69/4/632.full.pdf

  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC28294/

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