The biggest myths about cholesterol debunked

Jun 01, 2020
There's some confusion about what you should and shouldn't eat. Source: Getty.

Cholesterol can be confusing. It’s necessary for good health, but too much of the wrong kind of cholesterol isn’t good for you, either — in fact, it can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

And when you hear things like ‘only men need to worry about cholesterol’, ‘don’t eat high-cholesterol foods’, ‘cholesterol isn’t a concern for thin people’, it gets even more confusing. So, in an attempt to better understand cholesterol, we asked Dr Sam Hay to weigh in on some of the biggest myths surrounding it.

Only men need to worry about cholesterol

There’s a common misconception that only men need to worry about cholesterol, but according to Dr Hay, that’s not the case. He says women tend to have higher levels of estrogen, which raises the levels of high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol), hence the common belief that women don’t need to worry about their cholesterol. “However, after menopause this advantage is gone,” he says, adding after a certain age, men and women face similar risks.

Cholesterol isn’t a concern for thin people

Yep, that’s right, thin people can also suffer from high cholesterol. “Thin, overweight, or in-between, everyone is at risk and should have their cholesterol checked regularly,” Dr Hay says, adding that while people who are overweight tend to have higher cholesterol levels from eating too much fatty food, those who don’t gain weight easily also need to be careful as they can still be affected.

You shouldn’t eat high-cholesterol foods

For years we’ve been told to avoid high-cholesterol foods, but Dr Hays says dietary cholesterol isn’t nearly as dangerous as once thought. He says dietary cholesterol, such as eggs, meat and full-fat dairy products, has little to no effect on blood cholesterol levels. “A relatively small amount of the cholesterol in food ends up as cholesterol in your bloodstream,” he explains. However, it may be best to limit the amount of fried food, baked goods and packaged foods you consume. 

You can’t naturally lower your cholesterol levels

Turns out, a healthy high-fibre diet combined with regular exercise can help improve your cholesterol levels. Quitting smoking and drinking less alcohol can also be beneficial. Dr Hay adds incorporating foods with plant sterols to your daily diet can also help lower your cholesterol levels. Plant sterols are found naturally in a wide variety of foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and some vegetable oils.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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