Cholesterol Explained [video]

by | May 12, 2010

Enough people have asked me if the kind of cholesterol in egg yolks is good or bad (hint: it’s neither) that I think it is time for a brief tutorial on this misunderstood molecule.

Rather than put you to sleep with a watered down version of a Wikipedia article I decided to explain the interaction of diet and cholesterol in a short video. Hopefully this will help clear up what cholesterol is and how you should eat to minimize your risk of heart disease.

As always, feel free to drop me questions in the comments.

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33 Responses to “Cholesterol Explained [video]”

  1. love the video!! and great explanation. our farmers market finally opened last weekend and i picked up some local farm fresh eggs…soo different from grocery store bought. have been enjoying them all week and can’t wait to get some more this weekend!

    • Hi Darya,
      Good video and I was wide awake! In my opinion, as an professional nutritionist your cholesterol explanation got just about everything right about what is today’s most important dietary issue. Americans low-fat eating “trend” of the last 40 years has probably been the reason for this country’s epidemic rates of obesity and diabetes among young people.

      And most importantly, as Jamie Oliver noted, today’s generation of children will have a shorter life span than their parents.

      What is missing from your explanation (and Jamie’s, too) is the fact that animal fats are NOT simply made up of saturated fat. Fat from animal products, like cheese, whole milk, beef, poultry, pork all contain a rich and healthful diversity of fat: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. For example , surprisingly, bacon and chicken fat contain more monounsaturated fat (same as found in olive oil and nuts) than saturated. And animal fats ARE healthful, they provide the raw materials to make all sorts of things happen for essential human growth and development.

      In addition, LDL cholesterol is a little more complicated (for another post) than you describe. Not all LDL cholesterol is “bad.”

      My suggestion for further reading: “Fat, An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes,” a book by chef Jennifer McLagan.

      Keep up the good work,
      Allison Boomer, M.P.H., R.D.

      • Madhu Ganesh says:

        Very well said. Totally agree with you on the saturated fat part where Daria is quite tentative about it. Saturated fat from meat and its products really help the body in absorption of most vitamins and minerals.
        Any good food habit would try to exclude processed carbs and also the so-called whole grain ‘products’ like cereals. Whole grain means really whole not incinerated,ground made into dough with shortening(like soy kind) or something processed with sugar to taste better. This would actually leave us with only few whole grain foods which wouldn’t really taste the best without any flavouring or sugar. i hate brown rice for eg. can’t eat enough to my caloric needs. Although i like this – which is pretty awesome with little bit of sugar. I just have trouble in this situations were i can’t buy meat everyday. I can afford it but the availability of good and clean conditions at the butchers is almost impossible in a country like India. No cold storage, proper disposal. This forces me too consume some processed carbs like the staple white rice.
        Great video about Cholesterol though. Not very technical or superficial either.

      • hi madhu,
        yes, you got it right! fats help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, K). also, fat is important in the transport of [fat-soluble] phytochemicals known as carotenoids. there are so many physiological and biochemical benefits of including REASONABLE amounts of good-quality natural fats. the best resource i know on the subject is a book titled “Know Your Fats” by the lipid biochemist Dr. Mary Enid.
        also, in response to pmr’s last post, i think the data is very compelling regarding USDA dietary recommendations (that restrict saturated fat intake to less than 10% of total calories) and chronic disease, especially in children. in 2008 the Albert Einstein College of Medicine published a report that evaluated 30 years of U.S. dietary habits. the conclusion was that as americans followed recommended fat reduction guidelines they ate more calories, gained more weight (obesity) and had higher rates of diabetes. the data was quite stunning and unexpected.
        lastly madhu, i find it surprising you haven’t come up with a recipe for brown rice you like. i adore it! you should have had dinner with me last night. i made a brown rice pilaf: i cooked the rice with a bay leaf, chicken broth and a dab of butter. and in a separate fry pan sauteed onions, celery, raisins, fresh chopped ginger, ground cumin and a bit of coriander in olive oil. the vegetable-spice mixture was folded into the rice after all the liquid was absorbed. i served it with cauliflower in a creamy white cheddar cheese sauce and a green leafy salad.
        maybe Darya will want to share the brown rice pilaf recipe with readers.

      • Darya Pino says:

        Haha, you just did 🙂 I have actually recently fallen in love with farro and hope to be including a recipe for that soon. But I admit recipe posts are a ton of work and not my favorite to work on…

      • Madhu Ganesh says:

        Don’t really hate brown rice but doesn’t come close to the taste of white Basmati. I grew up eating a lot of it. I do like your recipe sounds delicious and i wonder how it would be like to cook biryani with brown rice.

    • E. Foley says:

      Huge difference, isn’t it? I buy my eggs from a farm down the road and I’ve actually “met” the chickens that lay the eggs. Happy chickens make tasty eggs.

  2. Shelley says:

    Thanks for the very helpful video. It’s nice to nice to hear this information spoken in a simple, concise way.

  3. marla says:

    Okay, I’m still not understanding this. Dietary cholesterol has no impact on blood cholesterol, but then why do those good foods, with good fats (and good cholesterol?) help HDL levels and lower LDL? Are you saying that these good foods aren’t beneficial because of their dietary cholesterol, but some other component of them affects blood cholesterol? If dietary cholesterol doesn’t affect blood cholesterol then why does a low-fat diet lower HDL and LDL? I am probably missing some really obvious point here…

    • Darya Pino says:

      Thanks for asking, Marla. It is the mono- and poly- unsaturated fats that benefit your HDL, not the cholesterol itself. In the case of plant fats, there is no cholesterol in the food at all. Does that make sense? A low-fat diet does not have enough fat in it to support high HDL cholesterol, and it will lower LDL cholesterol for the same reason. None of this is impacted by the cholesterol in the food, but the other fats: mono- and polyunsaturated as well as saturated fats.

  4. Daniel Cowan says:

    Whoa, that was very clear & useful, thanks for the pubic service. If you ever write a book I promise to buy it.

  5. Dave says:

    Hi Darya,
    Thanks for the interesting video on cholesterol. On a related topic I’ve read over 150 abstracts and about 20 full journal articles from the medical industry regarding consumption of coconut oil. My learnings from this is that the jury is still out with respect to the health benefits versus risks relative to other cooking oils such as olive oil so for the timebeing I am sticking with olive oil. It’s rather frustrating since coconut oil and eggs taste so damn good together. What are your thoughts?

    • Darya Pino says:

      As long as you are using natural oils and not processed oils, I say use which ever one you think tastes the best for a given dish. Personally I use olive oil most of the time, but cook Southeast Asian food with coconut oil, frequently use walnut or pumpkin seed oil on salads and sesame oil for other Asian cuisines. Though the science isn’t conclusive my guess would be that oils, like most foods, all have slightly different benefits so there is having a good variety is probably a safe bet. Just stay away from processed oils.

  6. Great information Darya! I liked the video too.

  7. Joan Nova says:

    Very nice Darya. I tweeted it and sent it to a friend who was just diagnosed with high cholesterol.

  8. Dani says:

    Great video… so clear… so simple. I am forever reading and studying the world of nutrition and often have a hard time getting to the bottom line! You make it so easy… thanks Darya.

  9. suki says:

    great video on cholesterol. now to translate that into chinese, so i can tell my dad he can eat eggs and avocados… his diet is mostly white rice and fish, so i think the rice is too much sugar. :/

    unfortunately, i have his genes, and i have high cholesterol, but mostly high HDL.

  10. pmr says:

    I enjoyed your video, I’m not sure if you have done many and I’d like to see more so just one quick tip. Be careful with the audio levels, they can distort. As far as content, I was surprised at no mention of soy fat servings, how do they fit in ? Unfortunately I have to take issue with the nutritionist pointing to low fat dieting being responsible for the epidemic of diabetes and obesity. I switched to a low fat diet and have never been healthier and more fit and as I observe the fat levels and portion sizes in our society I have a difficult time with pointing the finger at low fat. Thanks for all the info you put out.


  11. Hi pmr,
    So glad you took the time to read my comment. I’ve included a link to a story I wrote for the Boston Globe last Feb. My comments about fat are based on a whole new set of data that has been published over the last two years. I’m not suggesting that people stop being concerned about total calories (or eliminating trans fats from their diets). But many people eat low fat diets, thinking they can load up on processed carbs and that’s healthy. In addition, as difficult as it seems to believe now, based on my experience as a nutritionist (10 years as a research nutritionist at a medical school and over 25 years as a professional in the field) I think we will one day look back at the last 40 years of dietary recommendations to eat low fat as a misguided trend.

  12. pmr says:

    I read your article Allison and I’m pretty much in agreement with it. I have one quibble. I think when you characterize “low – fat” as a causality of the epidemic of obesity/diabetes, you are speaking of a diet trend, not speaking to monitoring one’s fat intake. As a diet trend, people do fall prey to marketing which substitutes garbage for the fats they remove from their diet. However I don’t believe this is an effect of “low fat”, but a failure of knowledge on the part of the consumer. I can see where the connection could be made, but I feel that simply categorizing the bad consequences of poor dietary choices under the umbrella of a “low fat” can diminish the importance of lowering America’s egregious fat intake (among others ie sugar, processed grains) and discouraging the careful monitoring of what one eats in order to cut down on the excess fats we consume.

  13. Eve says:

    What about organic butter and organic cream? I use less than a teaspoon of heavy cream with my morning coffee, and have a couple of pats of butter about three times a month. I’m lactose intolerant so milk is out but hard cheeses, cream and of course yogurt, don’t bother me in the slightest.

  14. Jules says:

    What are examples of processed grains ?
    I know white bread.. but what the more common ones to avoid when I’m grocery shopping ?
    Are thin plain bagels bad ? I see unbleached enriched wheat flour in these …

    • Darya Pino says:

      Yeah, you want to minimize anything made with flour. Everything is “ok” so long as you keep your overall daily intake to just a serving or two (if you’re trying to lose weight, the less the better). You’ll have the same problem with anything containing sugar (or honey, syrup, HFCS, agave, etc.)

      • Jules says:

        Thanks.. I just found out 3 weeks ago my HDL is 39 and LDL is 246. I want to do everything i can to get off these statins in the future. There are so many conflicting opinions out there it’s driving me crazy … 🙂

      • Anna says:

        What about rye bread? Is it OK?
        Could you please give more examples of whole grains? Apart from brown rice and lentils and quinoa. Is millet alright? Buckwheat?

      • Darya Pino says:

        Hi Anna. Like I mentioned to Jules above, anything with flour is a processed grain. That doesn’t mean you can never eat it, you just need to watch how much you eat. Lentils aren’t grains, but legumes (like beans). They are really good for you too. Other grains are oats, barley, spelt, millet, buckwheat, wheat, and my latest favorite farro.

        You might benefit from reading this article that gives you rules of thumb for telling intact grains from processed grains:

    • Darya Pino says:

      Ah, I feel ya. Well I’ll help however I can. My HDL is over 80 and LDL under 70. You might like this book, it’s very informative

      you might also find this post useful

  15. Emily says:

    Thank you so much for this clear and sensible video! It’s so refreshing to hear a non-alarmist perspective on dietary cholesterol and the role of LDL in heart disease.

    I do have one question: I have some confusion when it comes to polyunsaturated oils. You identify “plant” fats as olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. You mention that soy oil is usually a source of trans fats and hydrogenation. What about non-hydrogenated soy, canola, safflower, and “vegetable” oils? I consider these processed and I avoid them, but I’d love your scientific perspective.

    • Darya Pino says:

      You’re right, processed oils aren’t ideal. I personally don’t actively avoid them (not sure where I’d eat them anyway), but I don’t buy them because they taste bad. I just don’t see the point.

  16. Sean says:

    Thanks for the explanation. Can you talk a little about LDL-C vs. LDL-P and why one can be in optimal range (LDL-C) while the LDL-P can be high?

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