5 Things Dietitians Wish People Knew About Cholesterol

heart-healthy-foodsBy Justine Britten, Liz Page and Allison Wood

September is National Cholesterol Awareness Month, so it’s a great opportunity to educate yourself about the vital role cholesterol plays in your health.

Most people are aware that you want to have low LDL (“bad”) and high HDL (“good”) cholesterol. But there are a lot of misconceptions about what makes your LDL and HDL go up or down. Should you avoid egg yolks? Should you stick to low-fat foods, or is sugar the real culprit?

To help clear things up, we’ve compiled a list of tips that we, as dietitians, routinely share with our patients — especially those who are trying to improve their cholesterol numbers, or who have a family history of heart disease and want to reduce their own risk.

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Where to Draw the Line on Cholesterol

Eggs are high in cholesterol but contain important nutrients.

By Heather Rasmussen

As a registered dietitian in a cardiology clinic, one of the most common questions I get asked relates to dietary cholesterol. Patients either state that they are avoiding dietary cholesterol as they know that it is “bad” for their heart, or they ask if the rumors that has been circulating about the dangers of cholesterol consumption are really true. As a researcher in the field of heart disease, I know the ins and out of cholesterol, and have a variety of responses in my arsenal.

First, it is true that in some people (approximately one-third), dietary cholesterol does increase your own circulating cholesterol. However, it raises both your good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol, so the ratio of the two does not change. Thus, it is thought that because of this simultaneous increase in both HDL and LDL cholesterol, dietary cholesterol does not greatly impact heart disease risk. However, there are a few caveats.  One, some research shows that eggs (containing dietary cholesterol) increase risk of heart disease in diabetics. In addition, there is some concern that if we measure our own circulating cholesterol after eating (not fasting as most of how cholesterol is measured), that dietary cholesterol may have a negative impact.

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