I’m a person who likes my routine.
Especially my morning routine.
Typically I have a quick snack and then head off to the gym. After my sweat session and then a shower I head back home for my big breakfast.
Over the past few years my big breakfast has consisted of about 4-5 eggs, maybe some sausage if we have it around and then some veggies mixed in.
It’s super filling and it gives me a great start for my macros each day.
Well, one day I was talking to another fitness coach about what I eat in a day and I explained how my big breakfast is a staple for me.
His eyes opened up wide and said, “aren’t you worried about your cholesterol?”
He then went on to talk about his nutrition plan which consisted of only a few days of meat or eggs. His morning staple was his "heart-healthy" oatmeal. It was his way of keeping his cholesterol in check based on his doctor's recommendation.
I replied that worrying about cholesterol never really crossed my mind. I guess I’ve heard about how high meat and egg consumption could lead to high cholesterol but I never thought I would be in danger. I feel great!
Cholesterol Isn't all Bad
First, if you have a liver…then you’re producing cholesterol.
Our liver produces about one to two grams of cholesterol each day. The amount may alter depending on our food intake. Cholesterol-rich foods will decrease our production and will increase when we eat foods without cholesterol.
Cholesterol is necessary to produce vitamin D, steroid hormones and stomach acids.
Cholesterol is also the precursor to important anabolic hormones that are related to muscle growth and repair. It’s also the foundation for other reproductive hormones such as androgens and estrogens.
The carriers of our cholesterol are lipoproteins or our HDLs and LDLs. Often people term these “good” and “bad” cholesterols. These names are derived from HDLs which “mop up excess cholesterol” and LDL which is the main ingredient in blood vessel plaque. LDL does have an important job though. It helps transport cholesterol and fat from the liver to the rest of the body, so I wouldn’t go all the way and say it’s “bad”. It seems like most things in health; too much of it and it could be a problem. The main problem with LDL is when it becomes oxidized because it triggers the inflammation that leads to plaque in the arteries.
Our HDL and LDL numbers are usually what the focus is on when we talk about cholesterol. However, the more I looked into the issue, those numbers don’t really tell the full story.
There are many people with really high cholesterol numbers who have clean blood vessels and are the epitome of health. Many people who follow healthy fat diets like the Mediterranean diet have high cholesterol numbers and are model citizens. I’ve also seen people with low cholesterol numbers who seem to be walking zombies.
So, is high cholesterol the smoking gun or is it a combination of many other factors?
The other factor which kept coming up and was also more closely coincided with the poor health outcomes often blamed on cholesterol was high triglyceride counts.
Triglycerides are a type of lipid stored in fat cells when calories go unused. Mainly carried through the blood by LDLs…the “bad” cholesterol.
Once I started focusing on the triglyceride numbers I started noticing more symmetry with the cases of heart disease and high triglyceride numbers.
It seems cholesterol plays a part in the potential for heart disease, but triglycerides are the true villain.
So what is high risk for triglycerides?
It seems under 100 mg/dL is optimal and under 150 mg/dL is considered acceptable.
For HDL, many say 50-90 mg/dL is optimal and LDL below 100 mg/dL
But the marker which seems to really tell the story is your Triglyceride to HDL Ratio.
It’s been said your Triglycerides to HDL-cholesterol has been shown to show the STRONGEST association with cardiovascular disease than any other lipid marker or ratio.
So if we’re worried about cholesterol or heart disease. This is the marker we want to watch out for.
A healthy range is anywhere between 0.5:1 to 2:1. Anything above 2:1 indicates early signs of insulin resistance and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
One very important caveat and I haven’t found out why African Americans can have a range of 2.5:1 and still show positive health markers whereas Caucasians start showing negative health markers at around 1.5:1.
Either way, lower is better.
So what about the meat and eggs?
I definitely went on a tangent there when it came to cholesterol and my eggs and meat consumption, but I felt it was important.
So if high cholesterol numbers don’t perfectly align with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, but higher triglyceride numbers do, I should start focusing on what it’ll take to lower my triglyceride numbers.
And it seems all of the advice surrounding lowering your triglyceride numbers also mirrored a lot of the advice for lowering your "bad" cholesterol and increasing your "good" cholesterol.
How to Regulate Your Cholesterol
Maintain a healthy weight. High triglyceride numbers show a higher amount of fat stored in the body and lowering our fat storage will mean a healthier weight.
Eating the appropriate amount of fruits and vegetables each day. A large majority of our western population doesn’t get enough fruits and vegetables. We should be having 1-2 servings of fruits or vegetables at every meal and many don’t get this in a day.
Eat unprocessed carbohydrates. This coincides with our eat more fruits and vegetables recommendation. Things like whole grains, sweet potatoes, and legumes will add the necessary fiber into your diet which will help clean out the cholesterol from your arteries.
Eat healthy fats. Nuts, seeds, and fish are all great sources of fat and help reduce your LDL levels.
Strength train. Not only does this help boost HDL, but it helps your body become more insulin sensitive which will reduce your triglyceride levels.
Limit processed foods, especially meat. This is where the eggs and cholesterol come in. After further investigation, many of the studies which revealed a negative correlation between meat and heart disease included a high amount of processed meats like hot dogs, processed deli meats and jerky. These are foods we wouldn’t recommend anyway. Organic pasture-raised meats continually show positive impacts on the body without the negative health impacts.
Limit your caffeine intake. I’ll also add, get enough rest. Many people claim they need the added caffeine because they are so tired. Getting enough rest will set you up for success and hopefully translate into less caffeine consumption. Caffeine can increase cholesterol levels by about 10% so limiting your caffeine intake will be helpful for improving all of your health markers.
Will I be changing my breakfast?
But after this in-depth review, I don’t think I’m too worried about my cholesterol levels and if you follow these tips I don’t think you should be either.
I’m not saying you should start gorging high cholesterol foods, but focusing on having a low triglyceride number will be a better indicator of concern.
I hope this helps give some guidance on your cholesterol numbers and where your focus should be.
P.S. Almost all doctors who do standard lipid panel tests will have your triglyceride numbers so make sure you ask about it next time.