You probably think cholesterol is bad for you, right? Well, that depends on which kind of cholesterol you’re talking about. The one you eat is called dietary cholesterol and is found in all animal products. The one the doctor tests is called blood cholesterol. However, fat, especially saturated fat—not dietary cholesterol, is the main determinant of how high your blood cholesterol counts will be.
So, can you eat as much dietary cholesterol as you want? Not really. Keep reading to find out more.
How much cholesterol do I need to eat? Even though cholesterol is essential to many bodily functions, you don’t need to eat any. Your body makes all it needs. Experts recommend that someone with a 2,000-calorie diet eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol a day and less than 16 grams of saturated fat. Your figures will change depending on your healthcare provider’s recommendations, your caloric intake and your degree of heart disease risk.
I’ve heard about “good” cholesterol. What is it? Although good cholesterol exists, you can’t eat it. Your body makes it. Officially known as HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, one of its duties is to carry “bad” LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol out of the body. The more fat you eat, the more LDLs are made. If you make more LDLs than the HDLs can carry out, your arteries may be more susceptible to blockage.
Are there good and bad fats? Not really. There are bad fats—and worse fats. However, it is virtually impossible (and not recommended) for you to refrain from eating fat altogether. Just use it in moderation and know that saturated fat is worse than unsaturated fat. Nutrition labels can help you sort it out.
What’s worse for my cholesterol…scrambled eggs or a muffin? A muffin! While eggs have a lot of dietary cholesterol (one egg has two-thirds the recommended daily amount), they are low in fat and calories and contain important nutrients like protein and vitamin A. Muffins are high in fat and have little nutritional benefit.
The American Heart Association recommends that healthy people limit themselves to four eggs a week. That includes eggs in baked items like cakes and muffins. Egg whites are unlimited.
What’s with shrimp and other shellfish? Since shellfish is very low in fat, particularly saturated fat, it’s no more likely to raise blood cholesterol than lean meat.
Does my family history of cholesterol problems affect me? Yes. Even if your own levels are low, you have to keep an eye on your diet. You will also need to get your cholesterol levels checked more often than once every three to five years, the schedule for patients at low risk. You can also help keep your numbers in the normal range by quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and controlling high blood pressure.