Do you cringe when asked about your cholesterol? The word alone strikes fear of atherosclerosis, heart disease, and stroke. All the studies, the diets, the doctors’ orders seem geared toward lowering cholesterol, eliminating the “bad” kind, and consuming low-fat, cholesterol-free foods. Interestingly, there is little scientific evidence showing that cholesterol is a cause of atherosclerosis, heart disease, or stroke. Rather, current research indicates that cholesterol actually protects against these diseases and many others.

That’s just one reason to love and appreciate cholesterol’s presence in the body. Cholesterol is an important part of a healthy, functioning body. The brain and nervous system depend on it to work properly which is why mother’s milk is minimally 60% cholesterol, the proper nutrition for a developing baby. Cholesterol is also essential for the body’s production of hormones and vitamins that allow us to grow and adapt to stress. It also helps maintain the intestinal wall, allowing for proper digestion and reducing inflammation that can lead to many diseases.

Because there’s genetic variability in how a body processes fat no matter its source, how do you know if your cholesterol intake is appropriate for you? Many internal and external factors impact cholesterol level, so getting a comprehensive metabolic blood test is recommended. A healthy cholesterol level, determined by the ratio of HDL, LDL, and total cholesterol levels, falls within a pretty wide range.

HDL, or “good” cholesterol, and LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, are both needed to maintain health and prevent disease. That is, they’re both good cholesterol, essential for your body. Of course, moderation and variety in your diet is always a good idea, but you can enjoy the foods you love, even eggs and animal fats, as part of a healthy lifestyle that also includes regular exercise and sufficient sleep. Looking at all the relevant factors takes the fear out of consuming cholesterol and ensures that your body gets its healthy amount of dietary cholesterol.

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