Most people have grown up with the idea that foods such as meat and eggs raise the levels of cholesterol in our blood. This “fact” is so well known that most people do not dare question it. But is it even true? The idea that eating cholesterol and saturated fat directly raises blood cholesterol levels comes from research which is now almost 50 years old. However, more recent and better designed studies just don’t support it.
At any point, an adult has between 1 and 1.5 grams of cholesterol inside their body. Around a quarter of that comes from food, and the rest is produced internally by the liver. Most of the cholesterol that we eat can’t be absorbed by our bodies, and most of the cholesterol found at any time in our guts was first synthesized in our liver and ended up in there via the gall bladder. Our bodies closely regulate the amount of cholesterol in our blood by controlling its production. When we don’t eat much cholesterol, the body makes more and when dietary cholesterol intake goes up, the body makes less. Simple!
The more recent studies mentioned above show that dietary cholesterol intake has very little impact on our blood cholesterol levels in at least three quarters of the population. In the rest, dietary cholesterol intake does modestly increase overall blood cholesterol levels, but it does not affect the ratio of so-called “good” and “bad” cholesterol, nor does it increase the risk of heart disease.
This means that eating cholesterol isn’t going to give you a heart attack, so you can ease off on the egg-white omelettes and start eating some yolks again! And that’s a good thing, since all the 13 essential nutrients eggs contain are found in the yolk. Egg yolks are also an especially good source of choline, a vitamin-like substance that plays crucial roles in everything from neurotransmitter production to detoxification to maintenance of healthy cells. Studies show that up to 90% of Americans don’t get enough choline, which can lead to fatigue, insomnia, poor organ function, memory problems and numerous other health conditions.
What about saturated fat? While some short-term studies show that saturated fat intake raises blood cholesterol levels, longer-term studies have not shown the same result. In fact, all but one of the long-term studies examining this issue showed that saturated fat intake did not significantly cholesterol levels, and even that one study didn’t show a strong relationship.
If you’re now wondering whether saturated fat may contribute to cardiovascular disease in some way that isn’t related to cholesterol, a very large review of numerous studies, involving close to 350,000 people, found no association between saturated fat intake and heart disease. Another Japanese study that followed 58,000 men for an average of 14 years also came to the same conclusion. This study even found that those who ate more saturated fat had a lower risk of having a stroke.
As always, the key to a healthy diet is moderation, however the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet that has been drummed into us for so long may well have played an unintended role in the current epidemics of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Enjoy your fried eggs!