CHOLESTEROL IS one of those dietary dirty words that doesn’t quite deserve its bad reputation.
That’s largely because now-outdated science once linked dietary cholesterol with blood cholesterol. They are two different things and they operate largely independent of one another, according to the latest research.
Not only do you need dietary cholesterol to survive, but eating the nutrient has its benefits.
Hector Perez, M.D., a board-certified general and bariatric surgeon practicing in Tijuana and Cancun, says that cholesterol isn’t entirely bad for the body because it’s needed to help organs function properly, as well as create hormones, vitamin D, and digestive fluids.
That all said, maybe your doctor has decided to recommend that you go on a low-cholesterol diet in order to protect you from heart disease, stroke, or other health problems.
If this is the case, Dr. Perez says that in general “a low-cholesterol diet is fairly easy to follow, and you don’t have to give up all of your favorite foods. You’ll just need to be more mindful of the foods you’re eating and make sure you’re getting enough nutrients.”
“However, too much of anything is always bad, and if your body has a high amount of LDL cholesterol, it could lead to multiple health problems,” he adds. “LDL cholesterol is known as the ‘bad cholesterol’ because it can cause plaque to build up in the arteries, leading to heart disease and other serious health problems.”
As always, you should consult with a trusted healthcare practitioner like your primary care physician or a registered dietitian to find out what’s best for your individual needs and if such a nutritional regime may be good for you.
Ahead, learn what dietary cholesterol is, how to implement a low-cholesterol diet, and more about the misunderstood dietary substance.
What is dietary cholesterol?
“Dietary cholesterol is found in the tissues of animal products such as meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, and seafood,” says Kelsey Lorencz, R.D.N., with Zenmaster Wellness. “Research has found that eating foods with cholesterol such as eggs or shrimp is not related to high blood cholesterol levels or heart disease risk for most people.”
Even though the link between dietary cholesterol and heart disease risk isn’t clear, a small portion of the population may be hyper-responsive to the cholesterol in food and benefit from limiting this nutrient.”
Is dietary cholesterol the same as blood cholesterol?
No, dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol are not the same things.
“What makes [dietary cholesterol] different from blood cholesterol is that dietary cholesterol doesn’t have as big of an impact on blood cholesterol levels,” says Dr. Perez.
“This is because the liver makes most of the cholesterol in the body, and only a small amount comes from food,” says Dr. Perez. “When you eat less cholesterol, your liver makes more cholesterol to make up for the difference. And when you eat more cholesterol, your liver makes less.”
Put another way, Lorencz says that eating cholesterol from other animals doesn’t necessarily become blood cholesterol. “Blood cholesterol is the cholesterol that circulated through your body and has the potential to build up as plaques in your bloodstream,” she says.
What is a low-cholesterol diet?
A low-cholesterol diet emphasizes lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
“A low-cholesterol diet limits animal products, especially those high in cholesterol such as eggs, liver, and shellfish,” says Lorencz. “While some animal products can fit into a low cholesterol diet, they need to be limited.”
Accordingly, vegan and vegetarian diets are associated with lower levels of LDL or “bad cholesterol” and lower total cholesterol levels.
What does a low-cholesterol diet look like?
Lorencz shares a sample menu for a day on a low-cholesterol diet:
Snack: Apple and peanut butter
Lunch: Salmon salad
Snack: Hummus and vegetables with pita chips
Dinner: Boneless skinless chicken breast with rice and sautéed vegetables
That doesn’t sound too bad, huh? If you need more meals that fit the bill, check out our guide to foods that can naturally lower your cholesterol.
Is a low-cholesterol diet a good idea?
The bottom line: Always talk to your doc or a registered dietitian before making any major changes in your diet.
With that in mind, if you’ve tried other diets and lifestyle changes to lower your blood cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease, a low cholesterol diet may be able to help.
“Keep in mind that people who follow a vegan diet don’t get any cholesterol from the food they eat,” Lorencz adds. “Your body is able to make its own cholesterol, so limiting dietary cholesterol won’t put your health at risk.”
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