Keeping levels healthy can be tricky.  Here is a guide to help cut through the confusion

The warnings about high cholesterol are hard to ignore.  But they can also be difficult to understand, considering the confounding terminology.  We’re told LDL is ‘bad’ and HDL is ‘good’, but did you know that neither of them is actually cholesterol?

Then there’s the distinction between dietary cholesterol—the kind you eat—and blood cholesterol, which exists in every cell of your body.   The latter, produced in the liver and other organs, regulates metabolism and hormones.  This precious substance gets transported around the bloodstream via LDL and HDL (low-density and high-density lipoproteins).  When LDL levels are high and HDL levels are low, cholesterol accumulates and plaque forms within the blood vessel walls, which can constrict blood flow, causing a heart attack. 

Meanwhile, dietary cholesterol is found in eggs and other animal products.  The amount you ingest has less of an impact on cardiovascular health than you might think. 

If you’re confused, you’re not alone.    Here, we clear up the misconceptions so you maximize your heart health.




MYTH #1        The main cause of high total cholesterol is eating a lot of cholesterol-rich foods. 

This is one of the most persistent misconceptions around.  The biggest culprits behind elevated LDL (the bad kind), are saturated and trans fats, found in meats, whole dairy products and partially hydrogenated oils. 


MYTH #2        You only have to be concerned about high cholesterol if you’re overweight.  Being normal weight doesn’t mean you don’t need to worry about heart disease.   Individuals who are extremely overweight can have normal numbers while slender people can have dangerously elevated numbers.


MYTH #3        Some foods contain ‘good’ cholesterol. 

There is no such thing as good cholesterol in food.  But there are foods that can lower LDL.  The most potent are those with soluble fiber (beans, whole grains and some fruits and vegetables) which helps excrete cholesterol from the body.  Foods containing monounsaturated fatty acids (nuts/nut butters, seeds, avocados, olives) can help raise HDL levels.


MYTH #4        High cholesterol is only a problem for people over 45 years old

Even teenagers and preteens can have abnormal levels.  Often, it’s associated with excess weight.  In recent studies, one in five teenagers had an abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride reading.


MYTH #5        With a family history of high cholesterol, you need medications to bring it down

Genetics definitely play a role, and some people do need to take medicines such as statins.  But choosing healthy foods, losing excess weight and being more active can go a long way toward bringing cholesterol levels into line, even in people with a family history.   Research indicates that 4 out of 5 people are able to significantly improve their cholesterol numbers through lifestyle changes.


MYTH #6        Healthy cholesterol numbers are the same for everyone.

If an individual has no risk factors for heart disease, goal numbers are less than 130 for LDL and greater than 50 for HDL.  But if there are risk factors, such as family history and pre-diabetes, then shoot for more conservative numbers: LDL below 100, for instance.


MYTH #7        You need high-tech and expensive tests to know you have heart disease.

If you know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, a simple online test can predict your 10-year risk with impressive precision.  Try it at


MYTH #8        Elevated cholesterol is always risky

Cholesterol tests often include total cholesterol, but the numbers that really matter are LDL and HDL, as well as triglycerides and VLDL.  An ideal situation is low LDL and high HDL.  High levels of LDL are always dangerous.


MYTH #9        Foods labeled ‘zero cholesterol’ are always good for your heart. 

Many foods with this label are loaded with saturated fat, trans fat and/or too much salt, which can raise blood pressure and increase the risk for heart disease.  Some also contain concentrated sweeteners, such as high fructose corn syrup, which increase the chances of developing or worsening diabetes, another threat to the heart.  It’s important to look past the claims on the front of a package and read the nutrition label.


MYTH #10      If cholesterol levels are normal, you don’t have to worry about heart disease. 

This is one of the most dangerous myths around.  Cholesterol levels are just one of several risk factors for heart disease.  Others include high triglycerides (fat particles in the bloodstream), insulin resistance/diabetes, and high blood pressure.  If you smoke or are sedentary, you run a big risk of heart disease even if your cholesterol levels seem ideal.  So while it’s important to know your cholesterol numbers, it’s also crucial to look at other risk factors.


Source: Peter Jaret