5 Cholesterol Myths and Facts
What you didn't know
Americans have the highest cholesterol in the world
- As a nation, we could certainly use some slimming down, but when it comes to cholesterol levels we are solidly middle-of-the-road.
- According to 2005 World Health Organization statistics, American men rank 83rd in the world in average total cholesterol, and American women rank 81st. In both cases, the average number is 197 mg/dL, just below the Borderline-High Risk category. In Colombia the average cholesterol among men is a dangerous 244, while the women in Israel, Libya, Norway, and Uruguay are locked in a four-way tie at 232.
Eggs are evil
- It's true that eggs have a lot of dietary cholesterol—upwards 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.
- While you don't want to overdo it, eating an egg or two a few times a week isn't dangerous. In fact, eggs are an excellent source of protein and contain unsaturated fat, a so-called good fat.
Kids can't have high cholesterol
- Research has shown that atherosclerosis—the narrowing of the arteries that leads to heart attacks—can start as early as age eight. The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on kids and cholesterol recommended that children who are overweight, have hypertension, or have a family history of heart disease have their cholesterol tested as young as two.
- Children with high cholesterol should be on a diet that restricts saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, according to the guidelines. Fiber supplements and more exercise are also recommended.
Food is heart-healthy if it says "0 mg cholesterol"
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.
Cholesterol is always a bad thing
When most people hear "cholesterol" they think "bad." 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.
The role of cholesterol in heart disease is often misunderstood. Cholesterol is carried through the bloodstream by low-density and high-density lipoproteins (LDL and HDL). LDL, known as bad cholesterol, and not the cholesterol it carries per se, is responsible for atherosclerosis.