Why Doctors Finally Called A Truce On Cholesterol in Food

cholesterol in food
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Cholesterol is in every cell in your body. It’s an integral part of your cell membranes, helping good molecules pass into cells while keeping others out. It’s not well known, but most of your cells — and your liver in particular — make a lot of the cholesterol you use to function (about 1,000-1,500 mg per day). The rest you get from food.

After waging a 30-year war against cholesterol, the government and the American Heart Association are reversing their stance on this vital compound. A recent report from the US Department of Health’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reversed its previous ruling on cholesterol, announcing that “cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”[1] Health.gov’s new 2015 Dietary Guidelines have moved slightly closer to the recommendations in the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap.

Contrary to what we have read in the media for years, dietary cholesterol itself is not the bad guy. This post explains what cholesterol is, what the different types of cholesterol do, and how they help your body and brain.

Cholesterol keeps your brain running smoothly

Cholesterol is particularly important for cognitive function. Your brain makes up only 2% of body weight but contains 25% of the body’s cholesterol![2]

Why so much in such a small space? Cholesterol helps your neurons communicate with one another.

Many neurons are encased in fatty covers called myelin sheathes. Neurons are like electrical wires, and myelin sheathes are like the insulation around the wire – they keep electricity contained in your nerve pathways, allowing messages and signals to move much more quickly. Myelin is one-fifth cholesterol by weight, so eating plenty of cholesterol is crucial to maintaining your myelin and keeping your brain’s signaling both fast and efficient.

Cholesterol deficiency is linked to a decline in cognitive function and memory, especially for anyone following a Western Diet (i.e., eating lots of carbohydrates and dutifully limiting fat and cholesterol). According to a  2011 study in the European Journal of Internal Medicine: “an excess of dietary carbohydrates, particularly fructose, alongside a relative deficiency in dietary fats and cholesterol, may lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease”.[3]


Cholesterol is the building block for sex hormones

Cholesterol is the building block for every single known sex hormone. That includes estrogen, testosterone, progesterone — the whole lot. Vitamin D is also essential for sex hormone production, and people who don’t eat enough fat or cholesterol are often vitamin D deficient.

Cholesterol is also a key player in bile acid production. Bile acid helps your body regulate fat, cholesterol, and glucose metabolism.[4] It’s also required for you to absorb fat soluble vitamins.

What exactly IS cholesterol?  Why is it so controversial?

A common misconception is that cholesterol is a fat. Cholesterol is not a fat, although it travels through the bloodstream along with fats and it’s found in the fatty parts of foods.

Actually, cholesterol is a type of alcohol called a “sterol.” Sterols have two distinct parts: one that dissolves in water and one that dissolves in fat. The split allows sterols to travel in water-based compounds (like blood) while carrying fat-based products.

Cholesterol travels through the blood with packages called “lipoproteins”, which are like little containers full of fats, proteins, and other nutrients (like fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin D). These nutrients won’t dissolve fully in water, so they rely on lipoproteins to carry them through your system.

Cholesterol is controversial because it’s one of the first things we could separate out of blood, so we’ve been studying it for a long time. It’s been associated with all kinds of disorders, but the causal factors are still not determined. In other words, cholesterol can be a symptom, not a cause.

There is even an argument that cholesterol makes you stronger (you’ll survive poisoning better and put on muscle more easily when you have more cholesterol!). High cholesterol in conjunction with inflammation is bad news for sure – inflammation is a problem, but it’s harder to measure than cholesterol, and harder to control.

When we figured out cholesterol in food wasn’t a problem, the debate shifted to whether one type of cholesterol or another was the main problem, leading to the HDL vs. LDL debate.

What’s really going on in the HDL versus LDL debate?

Lipoproteins initially form in the intestines, where they gather and bind fat, cholesterol, and other nutrients. After they load up they move into the bloodstream to deliver those nutrients to various tissues.

During their journey, lipoproteins change form. There are a few different types, but the two most famous ones are:

  •      “high-density lipoprotein”, or HDL
  •      “low-density lipoprotein”, or LDL

The media and the mainstream medical community like to talk about LDL as the “bad type of cholesterol”, and HDL as the “good type.” The common argument: LDL delivers cholesterol to tissues (supposedly a bad thing) while HDL takes cholesterol from tissues (supposedly a good thing).

Labeling lipoproteins as “good” and “bad” is both imprecise and misleading. This carelessness with language wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t have the consequence of causing people to avoid consuming cholesterol altogether— driving them away from healthful, fat-rich animal products and toward an inflammatory, carbohydrate-rich diet based mostly on flour, sugar, and toxic industrial (but cholesterol-free!) vegetable oils.

So if the cholesterol in food isn’t the cause of the cardiovascular problems far too common in the Western world, then what is?

Cholesterol itself does not cause heart disease: oxidized PUFAs do!

It’s not true that a lot of cholesterol in the blood causes heart disease. It’s actually the result of LDL particles depositing cholesterol inside artery walls, and that happens because of inflammation.

It matters if  the LDL particles are carrying a lot damaged, oxidized fats, and that is more likely to happen if you eat a lot of polyunsaturated fats, or PUFAs, that are poorly processed and found in vegetable oils like soybean, corn, canola, cottonseed, and the like.

PUFAs are very fragile. They’re susceptible to oxidation by free radicals, and having too many of them (in cell membranes, LDL particles, and elsewhere) can trigger out-of-control inflammation and disease.

So now the question becomes not, “How much LDL cholesterol do you have?” but, “How oxidized is the LDL cholesterol you have?”

If you’re eating a Bulletproof Diet and staying away from kryptonite foods, you shouldn’t have much of a problem with excess PUFA intake. If you’re eating a typical American diet with processed foods high in vegetable oils, consider changing your routine and eating higher-quality fare.

The myth about cholesterol and plaque buildup

Also important is how long the damaged particles stay stuck where they don’t belong. Once inside the artery wall, these oxidized LDL particles attract macrophages and other well-intentioned white blood cells hoping to clear the obstruction; unfortunately, though, the white blood cell response leads to runaway inflammation and the production of a hard “plaque” that blocks blood flow.[5] Because cholesterol is stuck in these plaques, it’s often implicated as the “cause” of heart disease. But if you assay them, you find PUFAs.

Damage to the artery, which comes from inflammation and oxidized LDL, is the root cause of arterial plaque LDL buildup. HDL particles, which contain a good deal of the antioxidant vitamin E, can reduce the oxidation of particles in their place, thus lessening the inflammation and protecting the artery from plaque formation—which is why higher HDL levels predict a lower risk of heart disease.

HDL’s good deed is not so much that it removes cholesterol from these plaques. More accurate is that HDL protects and repairs LDL and fats from oxidative damage.

Boost Your Cholesterol Radar

One way to combat plaque formation and cholesterol-based inflammation is to eat a diet that’s rich in undamaged saturated and monounsaturated fats. Just as important is to avoid the poor quality PUFAs found in processed and packaged foods and low-quality restaurant meals!

Following a diet rich in high-quality, oxidation-resistant fat will raise HDL and reduce oxidized LDL (shameless plug: get the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap). It will also lessen oxidative damage and system-wide inflammation. Consume lots of coconut oil, grass-fed butter and animal fats from healthy animals (where you’ll also find cholesterol), fish, and avocado, and stay away from corn, soybean, vegetable, canola, and cottonseed oil and the like.

It is time to repair cholesterol’s good name once and for all.  Consider too that the federal government—an entity harshly critical of cholesterol-containing foods for most of the last century—recently changed its mind. The government of Sweden went even further (perhaps because Sweden’s government is on the hook for the cost of healthcare) and is recommending a diet high in saturated fat. 

Now you can enjoy those yummy, pastured eggs even more!


Click to read the complete list of references.

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By Bulletproof Staff

  • NighonLibertine

    If you take statin drugs to lower cholesterol; it’s like putting a bullet in your brain- only slower.

    • Mold free steve

      Very true indeed.

    • Max_White

      Funny thing is, statins don’t actually lower your cholesterol levels.

      What they do do is quite a bit more terrifying;
      They block lipoprotein production and absorption, forcing your cells to attempt to make their own, which damages them faster.

    • paco12

      So we saying stop taking chlostrol reducing medication (Satins), use coconut oil and eat healthy animal meat and fish with low carbon veg and cut out sweets – healthier lifestyle? So if that is known, why are they allowed?

      • NighonLibertine

        In reference to your query, ” So if that is known, why are they allowed?” regarding known dietary advantages versus purported cholesterol related heart disease. Some doctors will advise their patients- yet most will not: the medical field is highly dependent on drugs i.e. pharmacotherapy to address ailments of nearly every kind and description, even when marginally or very nearly ineffective. The hurdles to establishing efficacy in dietary intake is not funded by most of the players in medicine as they would have nothing to gain. The amount of money charged for drugs is huge and studies are conducted to establish the most tenuous benefits to oftentimes uncertain scientific reality as addressed in the article above. The link to dietary cholesterol being a factor in heart disease is vastly more complex than initial studies would indicate; yet the medical establishment became receptive to the initial studies immediately- since there were biochemical means that could be both patented and charged for to reduce cholesterol to get patients in and doctors and pharmaceutical companies paid.

        If you really would like to know how far this scam goes look into chemotherapy for cancer patients, the environmental/dietary chemicals/inflammatory agents e.g. omega 6s and omega 9s we take in are either pathogenic vectors or carcinogenic- with chemotherapy causing cancer nearly as bad as the carcinogens/ordinary foods that we imbibe. The amount of money taken in for chemotherapy is greater than all other prescription drugs combined (and only add a few years of life-while taking most patients life long earnings) and causes cancer just as bad- or worse- as what gave the person cancer.

        Suzanne Somers wrote a book about this phenomenon called “Knockout: Interviews with Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer—And How to Prevent Getting It in the First Place”. Where she explains the stranglehold that big pharma has on the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the AMA (American Medical Association); huge amounts of money change hands wherein actual cures and treatments are suppressed in favor of making incredible amounts of money. Virtually everyone eventually needs medical care right? You would need a whole hell of a lot less if you had a few dietary and exercise changes- so the most effective methods of longevity, health and healing will never be spoken of in the medical industrial complex: but outside of it.

  • Tage Harris

    Fantastic post.

    • wimmer20

      Completely disagree.

  • Jim

    Very informative as always. This really cleared up some confusion I had about HDL and LDL cholesterol.

  • Your Gut Flora

    No sources cited?

    • Tara S

      Right above the “Share”, under the article, it says, “Click for complete list of references.” and it shows 6 of them.

      • Your Gut Flora

        Thanks very much!

  • Paul Kemp

    Are these conclusions true for strokes caused by a blood clot blocking blood flow to the brain? Are statins useful for preventing future strokes?

    • Mold free steve

      Stroke can happen because of a blockage(not always a blood clot) of the vessel or a rupture in the vessel wall causing bleeding into the surrounding tissue and reducing flow to the brain. Eating a bulletproof lifestyle will help lower blood pressure which having high blood pressure is strongly linked to having a stroke. So the short answer is yes it will help. Statins have one main function and that is reducing cholesterol levels in the blood basically by blocking the cells in the body from producing their own cholesterol. This way the cells are forced to deplete the cholesterol from the blood. So the short answer is no.

  • Barb

    I have been following bullet proof diet for almost a year now. I have lost 28 lb and feel great but my cholesterol levels skyrocketed. Total cholesterol 7.95, LDL 5.82, HDL 1.81, triglycerides 0.71. The doctor wanted to put me on a cholesterol lowering meds which I declined. Should I be worry about those numbers and limit the amount of dietary fats? I only ate good quality fats recommended by Dave.

    • Jeff Hargrove

      Cholesterol is a hormone. It stimulates the liver and other organs to burn fat and metabolize proteins efficiently. If you are working out at least 4 hours a week, sleeping at least 6 hours per night, and feeling great, don’t worry about the numbers. If you are overeating and underactive, then definitely something to rectify immediately.

  • Fred Jones

    Please correct something in this article. Electricians don’t insulate wires to reduce the resistance. They are insulated to keep the wires from touching other wires etc. The insulation doesn’t change the resistance in any way. There is a lot of great info in this, don’t ruin it with misinformation.

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    • jaby45

      I agree completely with Fred Jones. This is a very good informative article except for that misinformation on resistance and insulation.

      • slowgenius

        This is where the analogy breaks down. In the nervous system myelin not only insulates the nerve axons, it also speeds conductance. Remember, axons are NOT wires. Propagation of current flow through neurons (which involves various ion channels) is analogous but not identical to current flow through an electric circuit.

    • Jeff Hargrove

      Ok then imagine the wires are underwater in the ocean…a highly conductive medium that would completely dissipate any signal if the wires were more exposed. A more insulated wire means less loss of signal across long distances.

    • Kevin Liboon Inoceto

      “Insulation doesn’t change the resistance in any way”

      Do you understand what happens to uninsulated wires? Corrosion. Corrosion will raise resistance.

  • Hong

    I’m also leaner than ever following the Bulletproof Diet but my cholesterol is off the chart from a simple blood test. My GP is overly concerned and wants to put me on statin, to which I naturally refused. Total chol: 9.9 mmol/L, Triglyceride: 1.4, HDL-C: 1.6, LDL-C: 7.7. What tests can I do in Australia to get more information and ensure that these aren’t the oxidised type LDL?

  • lastresortweightloss

    For anyone wanting to read up on the real science of cholesterol, go to the web site of Stanford trained medical doctor, Peter Attia, and read his 9 part series called “The Straight Dope on Cholesterol”, http://eatingacademy.com/.

    • Todd Skelton

      I have read and watched everything I could find by Dr. Attia. He’s the reason I went Ketogenic in the first place. I hope we see great research out of NuSI.

  • Alexander Fuego

    Right above the only sentence mentioning cholesterol in the article that says “Cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption” it reads : “saturated fat is overconsumed and may pose the greatest risk to those > 50 years old” -AKA the entire bulletproof diet. Every high fat diet guru always does this: act like a Christian and just pick your favorite parts of the book to follow and ignore the parts that are inconvenient. You shouldn’t be using one sentence of a Gov’t article to back up your diets claims when you previously have vehemently argued against 99% (obviously exaggerated percentage here) of everything else it says. That’s like saying the crazy homeless guy on the corner who drinks his own pee once told me that bears make good pets. Just because I think bears make good pets doesn’t mean its true. Not that I am arguing that cholesterol is bad here… I just have an issue with the VERY selective validation.

    • Frank_Black

      You are conflating two related but different things here. This is a Strawman attack. Also their saturated fat data is all based on composit studies that mimic the Framingham study, the international lipid studies, Ansil Keys etc, and it’s all a bunch of manipulated data and hockey stick graphs. It’s silly is what it is, and it should be obvious to most that major foundations that promoted this in medical school also promote eugenics and BS population control in back of this scientism.

      Which means of course, they are promoting this false fat concept and corrupted epistemology to kill you. That much is noticeable once people stop pretending the same families and foundations involved in this stuff somehow leave their weird Malthusian philosophies and population control religions at the door when they start funding health research and teaching in the 1920’s. It’s actually quite absurd that most can’t figure this out in this day and age of easy acces to primary research on the Internet.

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  • Nate Carlson

    It sounds like the important metric to watch is low-density lipoprotien oxidation level. How do you measure that? What are some meaningful ranges to compare to?

  • Jennie Rogers Barton

    Since going low carb, quality protein, bulletproof coffee, healthy fats (10 months now), my cholesterol number has raised. I’m concerned as my levels have always been within normal range and now they’re not. Suggestions?

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  • Liz

    So how do tryglicerides factor into the cholesterol picture? And where is one to troubleshoot if tryglicerides keep rising despite 2+ years of eating bulletproof? I’m asking for my 44 year old husband.

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  • lala360

    My husband just came back from his annual physical with a high cholesterol warning lecture that included removing coconut oil from his coffee and diet because it’s a saturated fat. It’s so frustrating that Dr’s still use saturated fat as a go to.

    • Anne

      I had a triple bypass 3 years ago. I hope it’s safe for me to eat Kerrygold butter,and brain octane daily.

  • wimmer20

    Guess I shouldn’t bother commenting since you just reject any dissenting opinions. Not only are your dietary recommendations unhealthy in the long term, they’re bad for the environment and the billions of animals that are needlessly slaughtered for food each year.

    • Optin

      when you eat a fat adapted diet, your dietary protein need that comes from animals is minimal. Fresh vegetables and grass fed animals cause far less stress on our planet than large scale commercial grain/legume production. These extremes of production – the large scale commercial production of any food, be it grain/legume or animal based are indeed damaging. If the 40-50% of our current food waste was reduced to near zero (simply a logistics and management issue), plus if the current state of chronic overfeeding of people on the common diet was eliminated (which is an automatic by-product of the BP diet, the overfeeding, aka excess eating will stop), far less animal would have to be consumed overall while they would lead a very high quality of life.

      Btw, new science shows that plants communicate, appear to express feelings and trees are even now proven to have a brain. What will you eat now? How will you house yourself? What will you sleep on, sit on? Etc. Do you use soap? Then you kill millions of beings every morning in the shower. Brush your teeth? Do laundry? Do the dishes? Squash a bug when it crawls across your floor, your plate, …a mosquito when it wants your blood as nourishment? Such is life.

  • wimmer20

    Thanks for deleting my comment. Nice to see opposing views are not tolerated.

  • Primally challenged

    Can one use avocado oil in bulletproof coffee instead of butter? Supposedly it can be used at high temperatures.

  • Check the drop-down at the bottom of the page for references!

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  • Jenny Bronson

    Flax seeds contains manganese, magnesium, thiamin and selenium. The antioxidants of flax seeds are the best home remedies for high cholesterol.

  • bingoballs

    “Consume lots of coconut oil, grass-fed butter and animal fats from healthy animals.”
    Right, unless you’re apoe 34 or apoe 44
    Genetics makes a huge difference to the livers ability to control ldl !!
    Apoe4’s shouldn’t eat much saturated fat, if any at all.
    Genetics is the key here, fat consumption isn’t black and white

    • Raimo Tuisku

      APOE4 should definitely be brought up in this article (there’s online tests if you want to test if you’re APOE 3/4 or APOE 4/4). Could the author chime in on this one?

  • Cole Freniere

    Your first citation is misleading: you said that the US department of health’s position on cholesterol has been reversed, but this is not the case. If you go to their website and look at their official guidelines, it says “individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible.” That powerpoint you cite, although it has contradicting information, does not seem to represent their official stance.