Do you find most information about fat and cholesterol confusing? You’re not alone. Let’s get things straight on these 9 common myths about fat and cholesterol!
When some people hear the word “fat,” they cringe and think of all kinds of bad things. Fries. Corn dogs. Donuts. Ice Cream.
To many, fat is something that needs to avoided altogether. Right off the bat – to dispel that myth, watch my video, Is Full-Fat Dairy Better for Weight Loss?. I don’t just talk about weight loss, I really delve into why full-fat dairy is so good for you.
So, yes – some people associate fat with gaining weight or not eating in a healthy way.
The word cholesterol often has the same connotations. We worry about high cholesterol and bad cholesterol. And how to reduce cholesterol in the diet.
But, all this aside, folks, it’s important to know that cholesterol and fat are both purposeful and necessary and are part of proper body function.
Let’s take a look, and I’ll explain it all!
First, we’ll answer a few questions.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF FAT IN THE BODY?
Did you know that fat makes up around 60% of the brain? Fatty acid molecules have a lot to do with the brain’s performance, and these essential fatty acids have to be taken in by dietary sources. These fatty acids (omega 3’s and 6’s) are not produced in the body.
Brain and eye development in babies and children are dependent on fat intake, and both adults and kids need fatty acids for healthy skin. Vitamins A, D, E, and K need fat to be absorbed, and hormones that regulate bodily functions need fat.
So, as you can see, fat does play a part in our health.
CAN YOU LIVE WITHOUT FAT?
No, you cannot live without fat. In fact, if you are not getting enough fat, your hair may become brittle and your scalp itchy. Your skin could be dry, and you’ll be more susceptible to illness and infection. Getting the fat you need is crucial to health, and there is even proof that your mood and sense of well-being are affected by the healthy fats you consume.
DOES FAT CAUSE HIGH CHOLESTEROL?
If the dietary fat you consume is mostly saturated fats and trans fats, you risk raising the levels of total cholesterol in the blood and LDL (bad) cholesterol. If you replace unhealthy fats like margarine and processed foods with foods like olive oil and heart-healthy avocado, you can lower LDL cholesterol in the blood. As well, when you have higher levels of HDL (good cholesterol), you can lower your risk of heart disease.
So the takeaway is that high fats that are unhealthy and high cholesterol increase the risk of serious illnesses like heart disease.
A few interesting things to note in regards to fat and cholesterol are listed below:
- Fats are found in both plant and animal foods
- Cholesterol is found only in foods of animal origin
- Food can be high in fat and cholesterol (fried egg for example)
- Food can be high in fat but low in cholesterol (avocado)
- Food can be low in fat but high in cholesterol (shrimp)
- Food can be low in fat and cholesterol (fruit)
WHY IS CHOLESTEROL NEEDED IN THE BODY?
To set the facts straight, cholesterol is essential to the body and helps it to function as it should. Every cell in the body needs cholesterol. Cholesterol works to make hormones like testosterone and estrogen, and it’s also an important component of bile, which works to digest fats. Cholesterol even plays a part in the formulation of Vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight.
We all know that that too much cholesterol can lead to disease. And it’s the LDL cholesterol that causes the issues. It sticks to your artery walls, generates an inflammatory response. Plaque builds up and restricts blood flow. What does that all mean? High blood pressure, stroke, or even heart attack can result.
HOW TO BALANCE YOUR CHOLESTEROL
LDL cholesterol is the “bad” stuff, and “HDL” is the good. How to keep a healthy balance of this necessary substance found in every cell? If you have dangerously high cholesterol, your doctor may put you on medication. Otherwise, you can take steps to keep levels where they should be.
- Don’t smoke
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes, 5 times a week
- Eat lots of fruit and veggies
- Stick to lean proteins
- Add heart-healthy fish like salmon to your diet
- Eat whole grains
- Consume nuts like almonds
- Opt for water as your main drink
Now let’s look at those 9 myths about fat and cholesterol. Doing so will help you understand that fat and cholesterol are essential and part of a healthy diet. Clear up those misconceptions and set a few things straight.
1. FOODS RICH IN CHOLESTEROL ARE BAD FOR YOU
The myth here is all about what foods you eat. Cholesterol-rich foods like fried foods and processed goods are not the way to add cholesterol to the diet. Look to low in saturated fat foods like eggs, full-fat dairy, and cholesterol-rich shellfish. Another example? Full-fat Greek yogurt has cholesterol but also calcium and muscle-building protein.
2. FAT MAKES YOU GAIN WEIGHT
Too much of anything can make you put on pounds. But the truth behind this myth about fat and cholesterol is that foods high in fat can help you feel full for longer. This can help you lose weight if that is your goal, as there is less desire to snack on unhealthy stuff in between meals. I’ve written a post on healthy snack foods, and on the list of snacks, you will find both hard-boiled eggs and heart-healthy nuts. The combination of fats and proteins make them ideal.
3. SATURATED FAT MEANS HEART DISEASE
This bears explaining, too. Sure, if you only eat fast food, processed meats, and sugar-coated donuts, then you are opening the door to heart disease. But if you enjoy healthy sources, like a salad topped with cheddar cheese and unsweetened coconut milk in your smoothies, you are all set.
4. DIABETES IS A RISK WHEN YOU EAT FAT
Again, trans-fats found in fast food and baked goods can only lead to trouble. But studies show that the fatty acids from fish can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, which topples that myth. Look to avocados, nuts, and olive oil as other sources.
5. PREGNANCY IS NOT THE TIME FOR EATING FAT AND CHOLESTEROL
On the contrary – the fetal brain needs dietary fat to develop properly. So, all you moms-to-be, you can (and should) eat both fat and cholesterol. Remember, though, stick to healthy sources like salmon, avocados, unsweetened almond milk, and eggs.
6. OMEGA-6 OILS AND MARGARINE ARE BETTER THAN BUTTER AND OTHER ANIMAL FATS
The reason this statement is a myth about fat and cholesterol that needs to be busted is because it’s a fat source mix-up. What I mean by that is this. It’s not a good idea to let omega-6 intake override the omega-3’s.
You see, there needs to be a healthy balance. Studies show that too many omega-6’s (vegetable-based oils like canola oil, for example) can promote inflammation, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Omega-3’s are known to suppress the development of some of these health conditions.
7. OUR BODIES ALL RESPOND TO CHOLESTEROL IDENTICALLY
Nope, this is a myth. The way I respond could be way different than your body’s reaction to the consumption of cholesterol-rich and fatty foods. Genetics can play a part, and there are some people out there who have a sensitivity to it.
And of course, there are other factors involved. How much inflammation you have in the body can play a part (look to my post on foods that cause inflammation and what to avoid). So can smoking and high blood pressure. Your lifestyle plays a big part in your body’s responses to everything, really.
8. FAT-FREE IS THE WAY TO GO
This is a definite myth. You see, when a food is marketed as fat-free, it is often full of other not-so-good-for-you ingredients that are added to the food to replace the fat. Want to get the full scoop? I’ll explain how to look for hidden sugars in this post, and then you’ll get the gist of what I mean.
9. HIGH-FAT IS UNHEALTHY
There are so many demonized foods that are actually healthy. Fat just happens to be one of them. To put it simply, and as this post has explained, fat is a nutrient we need to be healthy. Fat works in good ways – such as promoting fullness to keep you feeling satisfied between meals with no need for noshing on unhealthy food.
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