(April, 2016) Have you heard the good news? The US Government Dietary Guidelines for 2015 has removed limits on cholesterol intake (1). Now for the bad news: people are still scared to death of cholesterol and animal fat. Why? Because, for the past 50 years, they’ve been told that eating cholesterol-rich foods raises cholesterol and promotes heart disease. Though research has failed to demonstrate this, up to 70% of physicians still recommend the old guidelines, and are trying to force us onto statin drugs. To be sure, the pharmaceutical industry profits handsomely from doling out these unneeded medicines. So does the vegetable oil industry, which now sells thousands of times more soy oil, corn oil, carbs and trans fats than they did a hundred years ago. Back then, people ate a whole lot healthier, including much more cholesterol and animal fat, and there was very little obesity, heart disease and dementia, and cancer rates were much, much lower (2,3). Unfortunately, heart healthy foods like meat, dairy, eggs and butter were demonized 40 years ago by scientists tied to the edible oil industries, and the American Heart Association (2,3). That’s when the obesity epidemic started, and the era of chronic disease took off.
Real scientists have known all along that cholesterol is critically important for your body. It plays a vital role in brain health and memory, helps build cell membranes and is the building block for cortisol, testosterone, estrogen, vitamin D, and bile (4). Cholesterol helps regulate cell signaling and other cellular processes (5). Twenty-five percent of the body’s cholesterol is in the brain, helping to establish nerve cell connections. A recent study showed that good memory function was seen in elderly subjects with high levels of cholesterol, whereas depression and even death was associated with low cholesterol levels (6). Indeed, foods high in cholesterol could save your life! (7,8).
We’ve also been told that LDL-cholesterol is bad, but that’s only conditionally true. LDL comes in two particle sizes: one large and fluffy, like a beachball (pattern A) and one small and dense like a golf ball (pattern B). It turns out that pattern A is normal and healthy, while pattern B promotes cardiovascular disease. The latter gets stuck in arteries and causes inflammation and plaque, leading to atherosclerosis. But here is the surprising fact: Eating animal fat and saturated fat creates healthy pattern A type LDL, and sugar produces the unhealthy pattern B. So, sugar is what causes bad cholesterol (9).
There are many misconceptions about cholesterol. For instance, eating foods high in cholesterol, for most of us, has very little impact on blood cholesterol. Only 20% of blood cholesterol comes from the diet. The rest is produced by the liver, because we need cholesterol (10) Furthermore, no correlation was found between blood cholesterol and consumption of meat, animal fat, butter, eggs, whole milk, bacon, sausage and cheese (11). Taking statins can lower blood cholesterol, but they are likely to worsen your health (12-14). Bad habits cannot be remedied just by taking a pill (15).
Let’s be clear: heart disease is mostly about poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle. It’s not cholesterol, but refined, processed food and damaged oils behind most heart disease. In fact, cholesterol-rich food doesn’t cause cholesterol levels to increase. Animal fats aren’t inherently bad, but become so on factory farms. Our cows are engineered to mass-produce milk, fed hormones to increase milk production, confined and inflamed from eating unnatural toxic food, kept alive in crowded conditions with antibiotics. All those drugs, toxins and inflammatory chemicals end up in the fat of the animal. That’s why animal fats are bad (2,3).
Many of the healthiest foods are from animals, and are rich in cholesterol. But, an inflamed, toxic animal can produce inflammation and toxicity in the people who eat them and their milk. In contrast, organic and grass-fed dairy and eggs are healthy sources of cholesterol and animal fat, and are full of nutrients not found in such abundance in any other food. This kind of food has been feeding people for thousands of years. Healthy dairy has been linked to lower body mass index, waist size, and fasting blood sugar levels, and healthier blood cholesterol (16). For the very best in eggs and milk products, go to the Cornucopia Institute website, an independent public interest group that is working for the common good (17). The company I consult for, Trimona Foods, Inc., was rated #4 of 125 yogurts tested by this highly-acclaimed group.
For healthy cholesterol, eat a lot of fresh veggies and non-starchy fruit, get healthy fats, antioxidants and nutrients from nuts and seeds, add fresh spices and herbs liberally to your food, and focus on real, whole, unprocessed animal-based foods, especially organic and grass-fed yogurt.
(5) Sheng R, Chen Y, Gee HY, et al. 2012. Cholesterol modulates cell signaling and protein networking by specifically interacting with PDZ domain-containing scaffold proteins. Nature Communications 3:1249.
(11) Lackland DT, Wheeler FC. 1990. The need for accurate nutrition survey methodology: the South Carolina experience. J Nutr 120:S1433-6.
(12) McDougall JA, Malone KE, Daling JR, et al. 2013. Long-term statin use and risk of ductal and lobular breast cancer among women 55 to 74 years of age.Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 22:1529-37.
(13) Otruba P, Kanovsky P, Hlustik P. 2011. Treatment with statins and peripheral neuropathy: results of 36-months a prospective clinical and neurophysiological follow-up. Neuro Endocrinol Lett 32:688-90.
(14) Vrablik M, Zlatohlavek L, Stulc T, et al. 2014. Statin-associated myopathy: from genetic predisposition to clinical management. Physiol Res 63:S327-34.
(15) Diamond DM, Ravnskov U. 2015. How statistical deception created the appearance that statins are safe and effective in primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Expert Rev Clin Pharmacol 8:201-10.
(16) Smedman AE, Gustafsson IB, Berglund LG, Vessby BO. 1999. Pentadecanoic acid in serum as a marker for intake of milk fat: relations between intake of milk fat and metabolic risk factors. Am J Clin Nutr 69:22-9.
Even when I was just a kid, I was skeptical of the way that red meat and dairy got castigated for causing heart disease. I assumed they were as much a part of a healthy diet as anything else, and that their nutritional benefits offset their high cholesterol/fat content. I thought that the main foods that clogged arteries and caused heart disease were fast food and storebought junk foods, and the science appears to be bearing that out.
Yes, many in the alternative medicine area have remained skeptical of conventional medicine. The American Heart Association is bought and sold. They still tell us not to take dietary supplements, to fear saturated fats, and to take aspirin for heart health. It’s all tied to industry and profit.
Thanks for thhis