Cholesterol hits & myths

Getting to the truth on food and cholesterol can be confusing.

To help we’ve asked Sanitarium dietitian Eliza Baird to sort out the fact from fiction when it comes to 6 of the most common questions about food, fats and cholesterol. Here’s what you need to know.

1) Cholesterol is bad for you – That’s a myth.

While too much cholesterol in our blood isn’t healthy, our bodies do need some cholesterol to function. Cholesterol is essential for a whole range of processes from insulating nerve cells in the brain to helping make hormones, vitamin D and structures for cell membranes.

2) It’s okay to eat foods containing cholesterol – That’s a fact.

True. Dietary cholesterol isn't as dangerous as we once thought. Eating cholesterol-rich foods has a limited effect on your blood cholesterol level, far less than eating bad fats such as saturated and trans fats. A relatively small amount of the cholesterol in food ends up as cholesterol in your bloodstream – and if your dietary cholesterol intake rises, your body compensates by making less cholesterol.

3) All cholesterol is the same – Myth busted.

We get cholesterol from different sources. There’s cholesterol we make, and cholesterol we eat. Most of our cholesterol is made naturally by our liver and it is called blood cholesterol. Cholesterol is also found in the foods we eat, specifically animal foods such as eggs, meat and dairy products. This is called dietary cholesterol.

4) Plant sterols can help to lower cholesterol – Scientifically proven.

Plant sterols actually block cholesterol from being absorbed by your body. A review of 40 clinical studies found ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol could be reduced by up to 9%, when 2 grams of plant sterols was consumed daily..

Plant sterols are found naturally in very small amounts in plant foods such as grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. Foods enriched with plant sterols , such as some breakfast cereals including Weet-Bix Cholesterol Lowering, spreads and milk products, make it easier to meet the ideal 2 grams a day.

5) All fats are bad – That’s a big myth.

Fats are an important part of a healthy balanced diet.The key is the type of fat you choose. To help lower your total and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, and look after your heart, the Heart Foundation recommends choosing healthier unsaturated fats (such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, olives and avocado) in place of saturated and trans fats (found in animal foods like meats, dairy foods, coconut oil, palm oil and often process foods such as cakes, biscuits and fried foods).

6) Eggs are okay - Eggs-actly!

While you don't want to overdo it, there’s no reason why nutrient-rich eggs can’t be included as part of a healthy diet. The Heart Foundation says 6 eggs a week won’t affect your heart health. You can eat foods like eggs that contain cholesterol in moderation, as long as your overall diet is low in saturated fats. Eggs are an excellent source of protein too.

Want more information? Our nutrition fact sheets, created by accredited dietitians, provide the latest nutrition and lifestyle information to help you understand which foods are the best to eat. Click here to see the heart health nutrition fact sheet.