Last updated: Feb 19, 2009
One of the world's enduring stereotypes is the fat American with cholesterol-clogged arteries who is a Big Mac or two away from a heart attack. As a nation, we could certainly use some slimming down, but when it comes to cholesterol levels we are solidly middle-of-the-road.
The Cholesterol-Inflammation Connection
Inflammation is cholesterol's partner in crime Read more
It's true that eggs have a lot of dietary cholesterolupwards of 200 mg, which is more than two-thirds of the American Heart Association's recommended limit of 300 mg a day. But dietary cholesterol isn't nearly as dangerous as was once thought. Only some of the cholesterol in food ends up as cholesterol in your bloodstream, and if your dietary cholesterol intake rises, your body compensates by producing less cholesterol of its own.
Myth 3: Kids can't have high cholesterol
Most people think high cholesterol is a problem that's strictly for the middle-aged. But guess what? Research has shown that atherosclerosisthe narrowing of the arteries that leads to heart attackscan start as early as age eight. In July 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines on kids and cholesterol that recommended that children who are overweight, have hypertension, or have a family history of heart disease have their cholesterol tested as young as two years of age.
The Cholesterol portion of the nutritional label refers to dietary cholesterol, which is only one of the things found in food that can cause your cholesterol to go sky-high. (A bigger contributor to elevated cholesterol? A high-fat diet.) It's also believed to be the least important. Saturated fat (found in animal foods and dairy products) and trans fats (found in packaged foods) appear to have a far greater impact on low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called bad cholesterol that causes atherosclerosis, than dietary cholesterol.
When most people hear "cholesterol" they think "bad." Like most things in life, the reality is more complex. High cholesterol can be dangerous, but cholesterol itself is essential to various bodily processes, from insulating nerve cells in the brain to providing structure for cell membranes. That's why your body makes the white, waxy substance (about 75% of the cholesterol in your blood is made by the liver and cells elsewhere in your body).