Eggs, shrimp, and other high-cholesterol foods once-forbidden have now gotten the all-clear. Here are the surprising foods experts say are the real culprits.
Researchers have learned a lot about cholesterol since the days when your doctor would warn you off eggs and shellfish. We now know that while those foods contain cholesterol, eating them will not significantly raise cholesterol levels in the blood. Cholesterol comes in different kinds of protein-containing particles, including high-density lipoproteins (HDLs), low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), and very low-density lipoproteins (VLDLs). The cholesterol theory of heart disease is that certain particles, such as LDLs and VLDLs break off and clog arteries, resulting in atherosclerosis. Most experts backed away from using total cholesterol level as the marker, after researchers discovered that one form, HDL, may actually be protective. At that point, LDL cholesterol became the indicator to watch, though some doctors look at all non-HDL cholesterol, including both LDL and VLDL. More recently, cardiologists like Dr. Allan Sniderman of McGill University in Montreal have been calling for testing what he calls a more accurate marker—a blood protein known as apolipoprotein B (apoB). While previous cholesterol markers just show the amount of lipid in the blood, Dr. Sniderman says, ApoB provides a direct measure of cholesterol-carrying particles. Don’t overlook this silent symptom that causes half of all heart attacks (and it’s not cholesterol).
Diet still matters
It may surprise you to learn that half of all heart attacks happen in people with normal cholesterol. A groundbreaking study in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at ten thousand people who had suffered heart attacks and saw elevated blood levels of a protein associated with inflammation—C-reactive protein, or CRP. They administered an anti-inflammatory drug to some and a placebo to others; the anti-inflammatory group saw 37 percent less inflammation and 15 percent fewer cardiovascular events (such as heart attacks) compared with the placebo group. To manage inflammation, avoid these 12 types of foods that make inflammation worse. Here are 14 rules for an anti-inflammatory diet.
Now that researchers know high-cholesterol foods don’t actually raise cholesterol, says Marie Spano, RD, a sports nutritionist based in Atlanta, they’ve had to look to other culprits. Public enemy number one turns out to be sugar: It’s even worse than saturated fat in raising cholesterol and overall heart disease risk. According to research published in JAMA, a diet high in sugar—and sweetened beverages like soda are a major source—drives up bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (another type of blood fat), while depressing levels of good HDL cholesterol. Here are 25 ways eating sugar is making you sick.