Common Myths About Cholesterol and Dietary Fat

In recent years, we have heard many news and advice about the need to avoid fat and cholesterol-rich foods such as nuts, egg yolks, butter, and full-fat dairy. Instead, experts advise us to opt for low-fat substitutes such as egg whites, margarine, and fat-free dairy to be in good health and lose weight. However, there are a lot of myths surrounding dietary fat and cholesterol. This does not mean that eating any food rich in fat and cholesterol will increase your risk of developing various diseases. Even though recent research has dispelled such misconceptions, many myths surround the consumption of dietary cholesterol and fat. Here are some of the common myths about cholesterol and dietary fat.

Myth 1: All Cholesterol-rich Foods are Unhealthy

Many people believe that all cholesterol-rich foods, such as whole eggs, organ meats, shellfish, and full-fat dairy, are unhealthy and actively avoid having them.(1,2) However, this is not the case. It is true that some cholesterol-rich foods are unhealthy, including fried foods, ice cream, and processed meats, and should be restricted in your diet, but when it comes to nutritious high-cholesterol foods, there is no need for most people to avoid these.(3,4,5)

There are many high cholesterol foods that are very rich in nutrients. For example, egg yolks are known to be high in cholesterol, but they are also rich in essential vitamins and minerals, such as choline, selenium, and B12. At the same time, full-fat yogurt, which is also high in cholesterol, is also packed with calcium and protein.(6,7,8)

Having just one ounce of raw liver, which is rich in cholesterol, can provide over 50% of your daily reference intake for vitamins A and B12 and copper.(9)

Research has shown that when you have healthy, cholesterol-rich foods like fatty seafood, full-fat dairy, and eggs, it helps improve several aspects of your health.

Myth 2: Consuming Fat Can Cause Weight Gain

Perhaps one of the most common myths associated with eating high-fat foods is that it will cause you to gain weight. While yes, consuming too much fat or any macro-nutrient can lead to weight gain, but consuming healthy fat-rich foods as part of a balanced diet will not cause you to gain weight. In fact, consuming healthy fat-rich foods can even help you lose some weight as these foods keep you feeling satiated in between meals.

Several studies have found that consuming healthy fat-rich foods such as avocados, nuts, full-fat dairy, and whole eggs can keep you feeling full for a longer time and, thus, help in weight loss.(10,11,12)

Myth 3: Saturated Fat Can Cause Cardiovascular Disease

While there is a lot of debate on this topic, recent research has, however, found that there is a confirmed link between the intake of saturated fat and heart disease. Nevertheless, it is true that saturated fat increases the risk factors for heart disease, such as apolipoprotein B and LDL (bad) cholesterol.(13)

Even though a high intake of saturated fat can increase the amount of larger LDL particles in the bloodstream, but it also reduces the amount of the smaller LDL particles that are linked to heart disease. Research has also shown that certain types of saturated fat also help boost the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, which actually protects the heart.

Numerous studies have not found any consistent link between the intake of saturated fat and heart disease, heart disease-related death, or heart attack.(14,15,16) However, because there is no agreement between most of these studies, there is a need for more in-depth studies to clarify this debate.

For the time being, we can conclude that though the intake of saturated fat is linked with an increase in the risk factors for heart disease, it’s not a significant factor for the development of heart disease.

Myth 4: Consumption of Fat Increases The Risk of Diabetes

It has been observed that many of the diets recommended for treating gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes are low in fat. This is because of the misconception that the intake of dietary fat increases the risk of diabetes.

There are certain fat-rich foods, such as fatty baked goods, fast food, and trans fat, that are known to increase the risk of diabetes, but research has also shown that healthy fat foods offer protection against the development of diabetes.(17)

Healthy fatty foods include avocados, olive oil, nuts, fatty fish, and full-fat dairy. These are all fatty foods that are known to improve your insulin and blood sugar levels and also protect against the development of diabetes.(18,19,20)

The most important thing to remember is that in order to reduce your risk of developing diabetes, you need to focus on the overall quality of your diet, and not just the intake of any one macro-nutrient.

Myth 5: It Is Best To Avoid High Fat And High Cholesterol Foods During Pregnancy

Pregnant women are often recommended to restrict their intake of high fat and cholesterol-rich foods during pregnancy. Most women simply assume that following a low-fat diet is better for their and their baby’s health, but eating some healthy fats is extremely important during pregnancy. In fact, the body’s requirement for fat-soluble nutrients such as choline and vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids actually goes up during pregnancy.(21,22,23)

The fetal brain also needs dietary fat in order to develop properly since it is primarily made up of fat.

There are many high-fat foods that provide essential nutrients to both mother and the baby. These nutrients are hard to find in other foods.

For example, egg yolks are a rich source of choline, which is an essential nutrient for the development of the fetal brain and vision.(24)

Keeping this in mind, a pregnant woman must include certain healthy fat-rich foods in her diet to have a healthy pregnancy.

Conclusion

Even though dietary fat and cholesterol are often deemed to be the villains in our lives, but the fact is that certain types of healthy fats and high cholesterol foods are necessary for your overall health. Focusing on restricting just one macro-nutrient from your diet instead of having a well-balanced diet can be problematic and cause many types of diseases as well. While, of course, consuming fried and fast foods are not good for your health, but there are many nutritious and fatty foods that should be a part of any well-rounded diet.

References:

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  2. Jenkins, D., Wolever, T., Rao, A.V., Hegele, R.A., Mitchell, S.J., Ransom, T., Boctor, D.L., Spadafora, P.J., Jenkins, A.L., Mehling, C. and Relle, L.K., 1993. Effect on blood lipids of very high intakes of fiber in diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol. New England Journal of Medicine, 329(1), pp.21-26.
  3. Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. 2020. Why You Should No Longer Worry About Cholesterol In Food. [online] Available at: <https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-you-should-no-longer-worry-about-cholesterol-in-food/> [Accessed 22 August 2020].
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  5. Sample, I., 2020. Heavily Processed Food Like Ready Meals And Ice-Cream Linked To Early Death. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/may/29/studies-link-too-much-heavily-processed-food-to-early-death> [Accessed 22 August 2020].
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  22. Mousa, A., Naqash, A. and Lim, S., 2019. Macronutrient and micronutrient intake during pregnancy: an overview of recent evidence. Nutrients, 11(2), p.443.
  23. Mithal, A. and Kalra, S., 2014. Vitamin D supplementation in pregnancy. Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism, 18(5), p.593.
  24. Mun, J.G., Legette, L.L., Ikonte, C.J. and Mitmesser, S.H., 2019. Choline and DHA in maternal and infant nutrition: Synergistic implications in brain and eye health. Nutrients, 11(5), p.1125.

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