Confusion reigns when it comes to cholesterol

Some cholesterol is needed to make cells and hormones, but too much increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Cholesterol — this topic tends to be a party killer.

First of all, lowering your cholesterol generally involves eating less of the foods you love (meat, butter, ice cream…). Secondly, cholesterol recommendations are surrounded by the most controversy. Fat is good! Fat is bad! Why can’t they make up their minds?

So what is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance made in the body and found in foods of animal origin. That means meat, poultry, seafood, cream, milk, cheese, butter and eggs all contain cholesterol; plant-based foods do not. Some cholesterol is needed to make healthy cells and hormones, but too much circulating in your blood increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.

How do I reduce my cholesterol?

The most important fats to reduce are trans and saturated fats. Trans fats are most commonly found in bakery items (using shortening or hard margarines) and deep fried foods. Saturated fats are high in butter, cheese, meat, cream and chocolate. Other important strategies to lower cholesterol include: increasing your fibre intake, exercising regularly (raises good cholesterol), quitting smoking, and losing weight (No problem, right?).

What about eggs?

The yolk of the egg is very high in cholesterol and saturated fat; however, eggs are also a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals and can be part of a healthy diet. If you are trying to lower your cholesterol, it is generally recommended to limit yourself to three egg yolks per week.

Spreadable fat: Butter or margarine?

Hydrogenated fats, in some margarines and shortening are the worst choice because they contain trans fats. Butter is bad because it is very high in saturated fat (and makes things very tasty so you eat more).

Non-hydrogenated margarines are a better choice, because they are mostly unsaturated vegetable oils, made solid by the addition of a little naturally-saturated palm or coconut oil.

Margarines with added plant sterols and stanols are a new product on the market. These reduce cholesterol absorption in the gut and have been shown in research to help reduce blood cholesterol.

If you like the taste of butter, or think margarines are “modified plastic products,” you can also make your own spreadable fat by mixing a pound of butter with a cup of vegetable or olive oil.


– Serena Caner is a registered dietician who works at Shuswap Lake General Hospital.