Like saturated fat, carbohydrates and grains, most of us get it all wrong when it gets to cholesterol.
We’re told to limit our consumption of butter, lard, red meat and eggs, or worse, to go on statins to reduce our blood cholesterol levels, yet, our ancestors seem to have thrived on those foods without the predicted heart problems.
Seeing the opportunity, the pharmaceutical industry did a really good job of scaring us to death about high cholesterol and dietary cholesterol intake.
There’s cholesterol all over your body as you read this. It’s an essential constituent of all our cells and also metabolizes all the sex hormones and fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K. Without it, you’d be dead in no time. Also note that if you consume more cholesterol in your diet, your body will down regulate its own production to match its needs so this way you don’t get too much of it. The opposite happens when you reduce your consumption or take drugs to reduce it, your body up-regulates the production and tries to make more to compensate for what’s missing.
Of course, unlike doctors like to tell you, there are distinctions to be made and things are not as black and white as they seem.
HDL and LDL cholesterol
HDL (high density lipoprotein), which everybody recognizes as the “good cholesterol” is in fact a transporter that takes excess cholesterol in the blood and brings it back to the liver. On this point, conventional wisdom and the Paleo principles don’t differ; high HDL is a good thing and the more the better.
LDL (low density lipoprotein) is what is known as the “bad cholesterol”. LDL, like HDL, is not cholesterol, but a transporter of cholesterol, one that takes cholesterol in your liver and transports it through the bloodstream to where it’s needed. There are really two kinds of LDL, the big and fluffy kind and the small and dense kind. You don’t have to worry about the big and fluffy kind, yet today’s blood tests rarely make a distinction between both kinds.
High cholesterol as a symptom, not a cause
Elevated serum levels of cholesterol are a symptom of an underlying problem in your body, not the cause of the problem. Cholesterol is not the bad guy, but it’s there when bad things are happening and it’s crucial to make the distinction. In this case, the underlying problem is oftentimes inflammation at the artery level. Cholesterol is then sent to the artery to help and heal the inflammation. If it is successful at it, everything is going to be fine and return to normal. If the inflammation doesn’t subside, more cholesterol is sent and starts to accumulate around the artery as a band aid. Then, plaque starts to form and you’re in for future problems.
Understand, then, that cholesterol is sent to treat a problem, not to cause it. Here is a good analogy about that that I recently read: If there are a lot of shootings in a neighborhood, you can bet that more people will call the police. People could then observe that there are a lot of shootings when people call the police and that stopping the calls will stop the shootings. This is how doctors and big pharma like to treat the cholesterol problem today.
Inflammation as the root of the problem
The real cause of the problem is inflammation at the artery level. This inflammation is caused by chronically high levels of insulin, which is caused by excess carbohydrate consumption. Trans fats and vegetable oils also cause inflammation. We only really see LDL’s negative consequences when it becomes oxidized by free radicals. A diet high in antioxidants (vegetables and fruits) and low in carbohydrates will reduce factors of oxidation in the body.
Aim for high HDL and low triglycerides
Triglyceride is the name we give to the fatty acids once they are circulating in the bloodstreams. High levels are a bad thing. Again, high triglycerides are caused mainly by chronically high carbohydrate intake from grains and legumes.
To reach a higher level of HDL, be sure to reduce your sources of omega-6 fats, mainly from vegetable oils, but also from an excess of nuts. Taking a good quality fish oil daily is a good idea.
Saturated fats will also raise the good HDL, so lots of it is a good thing. Think coconut oil, lard, butter, and beef tallow.
I hope this article helped you reduce your fear about cholesterol intake and why it’s actually a good idea to eat foods high in cholesterol. I also hope that you’re now better informed for preventing strokes and atherosclerosis.
So now go ahead and cut the sugars, cut the grains and eat the fat, the meat and the egg yolks. In fact, egg yolks are a nutrition powerhouse and it’s egg whites that we should worry about because of some anti-nutrients and protein inhibitors. This is the absolute opposite to popular belief, not surprisingly!