Cholesterol has become the main enemy of healthy eating. It clogs arteries, increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and leads to excess fat build-up – these are the main reasons against. However, in reality everything is not so simple. Some fats in our diet are not only useful, but also vital.
How did it happen that even in the era of evidence-based medicine, cholesterol continues to carry the status of a great criminal? We deal with Tim Spector, author of the book “Myths about diets.”
Worst enemyDiet myths
It all started with President Eisenhower’s heart attack in 1955. Doctors said in a voice that he could avoid the next attacks if he switched to a diet low in cholesterol.
Thus, the US launched a campaign against fat, driven by epidemiologist Ansel Keys. When he was vacationing in the UK, he was disappointed with the local fatty foods: bacon, eggs, sausages, fried fish and potatoes. And he noticed that wealthy British people who have access to a large amount of such food are more likely to die from cardiovascular disease. Keyes returned to the United States, determined to prove his hypothesis.
Ansel Case’s hearty English breakfast prompted his research into cholesterol and heart disease. Source
In his work, he drew on the “Seven Countries Study”, which proved the link between cardiovascular disease and fat intake.
Later, this theory was confirmed by the famous “Chinese study”. In it, scientists compared data collected over several years on the eating habits of Chinese people with current rates of more than 50 diseases. It turned out that the Chinese are much less likely to eat animal fats, their cholesterol level is half that of US residents, and there was practically no heart disease, diabetes or cancer among them.
The conclusion was obvious: you need to consume less animal protein and dairy products containing fats.
As a result, the slogan “Fat is death” has become established in the world, which has been replicated by advertising, television, the Internet and other media. Is it really?
Several unusual families
There are other studies that we know much less about. Within one of them, scientists discovered several unusual families: the level of cholesterol in their blood was twice the norm. Such people often died of heart disease at a young age.
Later this phenomenon was called hypercholesterolemia (which essentially simply means high blood cholesterol levels). People with similar characteristics are really shown a fat-free diet, since in their case it is directly related to heart disease.
However, such people are only about 1%. The remaining 99% have a diet rich in fat that has little to no increase in cholesterol levels
But a lack of fat, on the contrary, deprives us not only of variety in food, but also of many nutrients.
Don’t believe the label
Cholesterol is a complex fat found in almost every cell in our body. The body synthesizes about 80% of cholesterol, and only 20% comes from food.
Fat has many benefits: it protects our cell walls, is an essential ingredient in many vitamins and hormones.
Most foods contain a mixture of different fats. And they all have different effects on the body. However, on the labels we only see information about the “total fat”, which, in fact, does not mean anything.
What are fats?
They are found in olive and rapeseed oils and are considered healthy.
Found in natural vegetable oils – they have a neutral or protective effect. One of their varieties is omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which come to the body from commercial fish, flaxseed, nuts and fatty animal meat. Amid the glory of omega-3, which is called the salvation from all possible diseases, omega-6 has earned itself a notoriety in cardiology. Although, in fact, the line between these types of fatty acids is very thin, and both of them have a beneficial effect on our body.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a popular ingredient in dietary supplements. Source
Traditionally, saturated fat is considered harmful. We get them not only from meat and dairy products, but also, for example, from coconut oil, which has gained popularity in recent years.
Perhaps the only type of fat that does real harm to the body. This is a completely artificial substance that is only found in processed foods or fried foods.
Keeping track of “total fat” is pointless. For example, lobster, crab or fish oil has three times more cholesterol than lard, beef, or pork. However, there is no doubt that these foods are good for us. The same goes for eggs: many people give up on them due to their high cholesterol content, depriving themselves of important nutrients.