FACT: Generally, it's saturated fat (i.e., animal products) and trans fat (i.e., many processed foods) that mostly affects blood cholesterol levels, particularly LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. Surprisingly, the cholesterol you eat, known as dietary cholesterol, has very little impact on the cholesterol flowing within your bloodstream. In fact, your blood cholesterol is more likely to be affected by your genetic makeup and whether or not you smoke than any other factor.
Cholesterol is essential for life as it is a part of cellular membranes, nerve fibers, hormones and other vital substances. Thus, cholesterol is not an inherently bad substance. In fact, your body needs cholesterol to remain healthy. This is why your liver produces all the cholesterol your body needs in order to survive. (The liver is certainly a miraculous organ as its functionality seems limitless--it even can regenerate in the event it becomes partially destroyed). Excess cholesterol is excreted by the liver, but some is deposited in your arterial walls where plaque formation can occur contributing to atherosclerosis and possibly heart attack or stroke.
Soluble fiber intake forms a gel-like substance within your intestines which helps to slow down the absorption of glucose (sugar) and to lessen dietary cholesterol absorption. The best sources of soluble fiber include oats, barley, legumes (e.g., beans, peas, lentils), seeds, and some fruit (e.g., apples, blueberries, and other citrus fruits) and vegetables (e.g., okra, broccoli).
Here are some other myths:
MYTH: Some foods contain "good" cholesterol.
FACT: All of the cholesterol you eat is the same and is chemically identical to that which the liver produces. HDL, the "good" cholesterol, is made in the liver and is not found in foods.
MYTH: Beef contains more cholesterol than chicken.
FACT: All meats (e.g., beef, pork and poultry) average about 25 mg of cholesterol per ounce.
BOTTOM LINE: Most people don't need to worry about how much cholesterol they're eating since it will have an insignificant effect on blood cholesterol. It is much more important to limit saturated and trans fat intake and replace these foods with healthy unsaturated fats and fiber which are beneficial for blood cholesterol.
Brian Danley, CFT
"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going."