Cholesterol is a much discussed and debated subject. As such its role end effects on our diet are often misunderstood. To this end, we wanted to pull the curtain back a little bit on this waxy fat-like substance.
First, some basics. Cholesterol is produced primarily by the liver in both humans and animals and is found in all cells of the body. It is also found in food (dietary cholesterol) in fats derived from animal sources: lard, tallow and butter. Vegetable sourced oils do not contain cholesterol. Below are typical levels of dietary cholesterol in animal fats:
Lard: 93-mg/100-g = 0.093%
Tallow: 109-mg/100-g = 0.109%
Butter: 230-mg/100-g = 0.231%
When you consume lard or tallow about one-tenth of one per cent is cholesterol. With butter it is two-tenths of one percent.
The Diet-Heart Hypothesis suggests that if you eat too much food containing saturated fats and/or cholesterol, the level of cholesterol in your blood will rise and the excess cholesterol will deposit in your artery walls causing the blood flow to the heart to be blocked producing a risk of a heart attack or stroke. While this “hypothesis” has found its way into public health policy, it is not necessarily proven. It is also a very simple cause and effect proposition, akin to pouring cooking fat down your sink drain and clogging it up. Our bodies just don’t work in such a simplistic way.
This Diet-Heart Hypothesis was formulated in the middle of the last century, starting as a hypothesis on saturated fat not cholesterol. Even the man who championed these ideas – Dr. Ancel Keys – was quoted in 1997 as saying:
There’s no connection whatsoever between cholesterol in food and cholesterol in the blood.
So, often-made recommendations to avoid cholesterol in food won’t affect your serum cholesterol, especially with respect to foods that contain only one-tenth of one percent of cholesterol and are used in small amounts to fry food.
Because diet modifications have little or no effect on blood cholesterol levels, the pharmaceutical industry has been actively promoting a class of drugs, called statins, as a way of lowering concentrations of cholesterol in the blood. Cholesterol is not soluble in blood but is transported in the blood stream by molecules called lipoproteins. This has given rise to a new set of theories which has divided lipoproteins into “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol and led to established ratios of good to bad cholesterol for heart health.
The question can be legitimately be asked: can cholesterol really be “bad” when we need it for:
- creating synapses to establish connections between nerves in the brain,
- synthesizing Vitamin D by sunlight on your skin,
- providing structural integrity of our cells,
- synthesizing our sex hormones, and
- creating bile in the gall bladder to help with food digestion.
Furthermore, our bodies create cholesterol in the liver for all these purposes. People on a normal diet consume only one-fifth or one-sixth of their daily requirement of cholesterol through diet. The rest is made by the liver. Reducing cholesterol in the diet causes the liver making more to compensate. In that context, it doesn’t seem that we can call cholesterol “bad”.
Bank Brothers Sustainable Ingredients manufactures both animal-based fats and vegetable based oils. We invite our customers to learn more about cholesterol, saturated fats, unsaturated fats and heart disease, so they can make informed decisions about the animal and vegetable-sourced fats and oils they use in their foodservice and manufacturing applications.
A great place to start is an informative and entertaining book by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick called “The Great Cholesterol Con: The Truth About What Really Causes Heart Disease and How to Avoid It”. Dr. Kendrick is medical doctor and regularly blogs about the causes of heart disease at https://drmalcolmkendrick.org.