You may be surprised to learn that research linking blood cholesterol levels and heart disease is weak. This is surprising because in the media and in the doctor’s office there is much focus around keeping blood cholesterol levels less than 200 mg/dl. Many cholesterol lowering medications are being prescribed, and most of us believe they are mandatory.
“37% of all Canadians over 40 years of age take some type of cholesterol lowering medication. Since 1990 incidence of cardiovascular disease is still unchanged. 80% of heart attack victims have normal cholesterol blood levels.” (B.Goldman, Pharmacist, 2008, Life Peak)
The cholesterol hype has also motivated many to change their diet. Eggs are avoided because dietary cholesterol is considered bad. Saturated fat is feared so chicken is chosen over beef. But it isn’t so black and white, dietary cholesterol may impact some people’s blood cholesterol although not significantly. And not all saturated fats are the same or have the same impact on blood cholesterol. Consider this, our diets have much less saturated fat and cholesterol then say 100 years ago (less butter, lard, tallow, beef, pork and eggs) yet heart disease is today’s number one killer in North America. According to Mayo Clinic Population research (2008) heart disease may even be on an upswing.
To learn more about the controversy around cholesterol and heart disease have a look at Chapters 14 – 16 of The Last Tango with Butter.
To replace the lost calories from the fattier diet of yesteryear we have added in processed carbohydrates. If you cannot yet ignore the blood cholesterol hype then please note; a diet high in processed carbohydrates and sugar will have more of an impact (negatively) on blood cholesterol levels then a diet high in saturated fat, simply because excess carbohydrates are converted to triglycerides which can end up in LDL cholesterol bundles.
Fructose, a monosaccharide naturally found in fruits and vegetables, cane sugar, sucrose or table sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, agave nectar, maple syrup and honey is also a culprit to higher blood cholesterols. It is metabolized directly in the liver where it is turned into free fatty acids (FFA), very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL – a type of bad cholesterol) and triglycerides. It does not feed your cells like glucose; consuming fructose is essentially consuming fat.
So before attempting to lower blood cholesterol levels perhaps review your sugar and carbohydrate intake instead of saturated fat intake. Keep in mind that consuming excessive amounts of fructose does a whole lot of other things to the body as well, none of it good, but we’ll leave that for another blog.