In the world of pop medicine, cholesterol is considered one of the bad guys. In reality, every animal, including every human, relies on cholesterol for life. Cholesterol is so important to the life of an animal that it is made in every organ system and used in every cell. This life-sustaining substance only becomes a problem when too much of it is consumed via an animal-rich diet.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a form of fat that provides each cell with structural integrity and fluidity, giving us the ability to move around without injury. Our hearts beat, we laugh and dance, and even have babies the way we do, thanks to the cellular freedom we get from cholesterol. Plants don’t make cholesterol, relying instead on rigid cell walls that severely limit their range of motion.
Serum, Endogenous, and Dietary Cholesterols
Medical professionals view cholesterol three ways: serum, endogenous, and dietary:
- Serum — the measurable cholesterol in the bloodstream. It comes from two sources:
- Endogenous — the body makes this form and relies on it for healthy living.
- Dietary — this form comes from the animals and animal products (milk, cheese, eggs, and such) that we eat.
The body can only process a limited amount of cholesterol; when there is more of it in the bloodstream than the body can use, it stores the excess as fat in the liver, the gallbladder, in the blood vessels, and at various other locations. The build-up of excess cholesterol leads to obesity, diabetes, gallstones, fatty liver disease, cancer, hardening of the arteries, and heart disease.
The body uses 100% of its endogenous cholesterol. The body does a very poor job, however, of processing dietary cholesterol, made by other animals for their own body’s optimum use. To maintain balance, the human body produces less of the useful, efficient endogenous cholesterol to compensate for an inefficient high-cholesterol diet.
Diet: Plant versus Animal
If a person spent a lifetime eating a high-quality plant-based diet, she would have full access to all the cholesterol ever needed because the body itself would manufacture all the cholesterol it needs. Furthermore, this cholesterol would be of perfect form for human health.
There is no way to eat meat, poultry, dairy, fish, and certain shellfish without consuming the cholesterol the animal’s body made for its own or its offspring’s use.
Cholesterol and Women
Human milk contains a substantial portion of cholesterol because a baby needs this unique form of dietary cholesterol to supplement its own body’s production of this vital substance during the period of rapid cellular growth during the first years of life.
Most American families could benefit from more plants, fewer animal foods in the diet, and women can help influence the eating habits of their families. When children learn early to enjoy a diet rich in plant-based foods with animal-based foods consumed in moderation, they are more likely to maintain a healthy body weight throughout life and reduce risk for many chronic diseases.
- Cholesterol: What is the Power of knowing your numbers? American Heart Association. n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.
- For Consumers: Cholesterol. FDA / US Food and Drug Administration. US Department of Health and Human Services. 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.