Foods high in cholesterol - healthy, not harmful!
Foods high in cholesterol are mostly good to eat. Eggs and caviar, seafoods like abalone, oysters, prawns, squid, octopus and sea cucumber, organ meats like liver and brain... These are all foods that many people find delicious (yes, including brain which I ever ate, it is delicious!)
Traditionally, these foods high in cholesterol were also regarded as health foods. The Chinese, especially, are known for placing a high value on various types of seafood, and for eating all sorts of organ meats. But even traditional Western cultures have "healthy recipes" for foods like liver and brain.
Even in the animal kingdom, animals like lions and tigers would, when they kill their prey, eat the liver and brain first.
Yet today, these foods are widely condemned by doctors and health authorities as being harmful to health. We are constantly reminded to avoid or minimise foods high in cholesterol.
Who is right? Were our ancestors mistaken? Or do they, along with wild animals, instinctively know something that scientists don't know?
Actually, scientists do know that foods high in cholesterol tend to be nutritious. It is just that, ever since the 1950s, they have stubbornly clung to the mistaken idea that saturated fats and cholesterol cause heart disease.
Every cell in the bodyTo appreciate why high cholesterol foods are not harmful, we need to understand what cholesterol is, and what role it plays in human health.
The special quality of cholesterol is that it is impossible to dissolve in water. Cholesterol makes our cell walls waterproof. And this allows us to regulate the internal environment of our cells, undisturbed by changes in their surroundings.
Our cells need cholesterol in order to function properly.
It is true that the body more specifically the liver can produce cholesterol for the body's needs. But taking foods high in cholesterol can be helpful.
When you do not take enough high cholesterol foods for example, if you take mainly vegetable oils rather than animal fat containing cholesterol the cholesterol in your blood will be transferred to your cells. As a result, your blood cholesterol level drops.
Most people, including most doctors and scientists, consider this to be a good sign. It is actually an unhealthy sign because it indicates that your cells have become weak from lack of cholesterol.
For this reason, it is not a good idea to switch from animal fats to polyunsaturated fats in the form of vegetable oils. It weakens your cells. There is scientific evidence that high intake of polyunsaturated fats increases the risks of heart disease, cancer and other degenerative diseases. Click here to learn about the harm of polyunsaturated fats.
The fact that cells are waterproof is especially critical for the normal functioning of nerves and nerve cells. Thus, the highest concentration of cholesterol in the body is found in the brain and other parts of the nervous system.
Foods high in cholesterol nourish the brain. People with very low cholesterol (below 150 mg/dl) are more prone to depression and nervous system disorders. Some develop suicidal tendencies. Rather than worry about foods high in cholesterol, you need to worry more if your blood cholesterol level is too low.
High cholesterol foods for babies
Because cholesterol is needed for brain development, babies and children need foods high in cholesterol.
One of the richest high cholesterol foods is, in fact, human breast milk. And one of the most harmful foods to give to babies is soy infant formula, because it contains zero cholesterol.
What about heart disease? Isn't heart disease caused by eating too much foods high in cholesterol?
Here, we need to understand the difference between “cause” and “association”. Many scientific studies have found an association between cholesterol and heart disease. But this does not meant that high cholesterol foods cause heart disease.
"Association" simply means that the two conditions occur together. For example, scientists have also found a strong association between heart disease in men, and male pattern baldness - that is, losing hair at the back of the head. Nobody in his right mind would claim that baldness causes heart disease, or vice versa.
But it is a fact that there is a strong association between the two conditions. The most likely explanation is that some other factor causes both conditions.
In the case of cholesterol and heart disease, the association is not even as strong. What scientists have observed is:
So just as in the case of baldness, it could well be that other factors cause both high cholesterol and heart disease.
For example, being overweight causes cholesterol levels to rise. And being overweight causes heart disease. Likewise, stress, smoking and other lifestyle / environmental factors cause high cholesterol. And they also cause heart disease.
When you understand high cholesterol from this perspective, you will realise that high cholesterol may indicate the presence of heart disease. But it is not the cause. The causes are other factors in the diet, lifestyle and environment.
Click here to read more about the causes of coronary heart disease.
High cholesterol foods vs high blood cholesterol
One of the biggest studies to establish saturated fats as the causes of coronary heart disease was the 1968 International Atherosclerosis Project, in which over 22,000 corpses in 14 nations were cut open and examined for plaque in the arteries.
The study found roughly the same degree of plaque in the arteries in all parts of the world:
In a long term British study involving several thousand men, half of them were asked to reduce saturated fat and cholesterol, stop smoking and increase the amounts of unsaturated oils such as margarine and vegetable oils. The rest continued to eat their usual amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol, and also continued to smoke.The study results, reported in The Lancet in 1968, were startling: After one year, those following the ‘healthy’ diet and lifetyle had 100 percent more deaths than those on the supposedly unhealthy diet and lifestyle.
The Framingham Heart Study, started in 1948 and still on-going, is one of the biggest research projects on heart health. In 1992, study leader Dr William Castelli wrote in Archives of Internal Medicine:
“In Frammingham, Massachusetts, the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.”