Cholesterol is one of the most confusing substances in the world of nutrition. For many years, we were told that too much will kill you and that we should stay away from eggs, butter and meat because these foods will clog our arteries and kill us. The campaign against cholesterol is responsible for modern high-carb diets and the choice to consume margarine instead of proper butter. This advice could have been very harmful to an entire generation, and has created eating habits that are incredibly difficult for us to break.
While the scientists that promoted those messages were well meaning, the latest research suggests that they were mistaken. Just as we need some fat in our diets for hormone production and energy and to support the uptake of fat-soluble nutrients, we need cholesterol too. Not only does the amount of this substance, which is essentially just an organic lipid, in our diets not actually have an impact on the amount in our bloodstream, but it turns out that it can actually be good to take in some cholesterols through our diet, especially if they come in the form of good-quality eggs, grass-fed beef or other sources of protein, healthy fats and other nutrients.
Every single cell in our body has this organic lipid in it, and it is used to make up the bile that helps your body to digest food. In addition, it is used in the production of vitamin D, as well as essential hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen. The liver is capable of synthesizing as much as 1000mg of the lipid per day, but the amount made in the body and the amount that you consume on a day-to-day basis are not related. In fact, most of the lipid that you eat will just be excreted — only a small amount of it is absorbed by the body. The reason it is worth eating red meats, eggs and other foods is not because of their fat content so much as the protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are found in them. Giving up on those because of something that is not even really digested properly does not make a lot of sense.
There are a few different kinds of cholesterols; they are:
High-density lipoproteins — light transporters that actually help to lower the levels of LDL in your bloodstream so that they can be processed by the liver and disposed of as bile. It is a good idea to include HDL sources in your diet.
Low-density lipoproteins — this is considered to be a bad thing to have a lot of in your bloodstream. These transporters add to the amount of cholesterols in your blood plasma.
Very-low-density lipoproteins — this type of lipoprotein was only recently discovered and doctors are still investigating what this protein does, although it is generally considered to be bad to have very high levels of it in your bloodstream.
Paleo — The Way Nature Intended
The traditionally high-carbohydrate diet, which is rich in grains and contains only a small amount of red meat, is something that governments and health services promoted when they thought that cholesterols and fats were very bad for you. Even now, when medical opinions have changed, the public image of eggs, red meat and other fatty but natural foods is still poor. It will take a long time to educate people in the benefits of eating a Paleo-style low-carbohydrate diet.
Paleo diet followers avoid margarine, grains, processed foods and sugary foods in favour of a more natural diet — the kind of diet that our caveman ancestors would have enjoyed. Not only is this diet high in HDL — the lipoproteins that are considered to be good for you by current medical wisdom — but it also helps people to avoid many potentially harmful foods.
A large number of people suffer from sensitivities to gluten (even if they do not have celiac disease), and lactose intolerance is common too. These conditions have only become accepted and broadly understood relatively recently, and as such there are many people who are undiagnosed. If you experience bloating or pain after eating bread, get bad flatulence after drinking milk or eating cheese or just feel generally run-down, then you could have a sensitivity to gluten (found in most grains) or lactose (found in milk and cheese).
To combat the issue of LDL and HDL lipids in foods, many food companies released “heart healthy” spreads and oils that were made of hydrogenated vegetable oil or other processed fats. This was well intentioned, but the way that the fats were treated actually made them worse for your cardiovascular health than the traditional butter that they were designed to replace. The Paleo diet advises against eating processed foods, including oils and spreads, instead encouraging people to use olive oil, sesame oil or other high-quality healthy oils in their place.
Science Constantly Evolves
Medical science is constantly evolving and new discoveries are always being made. Today, LDL is “the bad guy”, but that may change one day. However, what does not change is the fact that Paleo eaters tend to feel healthier, have more energy and lose weight more easily than their counterparts that eat a more modern Western diet.
If you are someone who wants to lose weight, an athlete that needs lots of energy, a celiac sufferer or even just someone who cares about their health, then it is a good idea to try a Paleo-style eating plan that includes nuts, grass-fed beef, eggs, chicken, vegetables, berries and some fruit. There are some people who choose a modified Paleo-style diet that includes a small amount of dairy, or even allows potatoes for some additional starch. This type of diet is a good stepping stone for those who want to eat more healthily but who do not feel prepared for the restrictions of Paleo. It will still help to improve your cardiovascular health, and over time you can modify the diet to be more or less strict as appropriate.