What's the Link Between Dietary Cholesterol and Blood Cholesterol?

Readers, I want to let you in on a little dietary experiment I've been running.

Over the past year or so, I've made one modest adjustment to my diet: I've been starting my days with a simple breakfast of... two eggs. Sometimes I'll include some fruit, occasionally I'll add a third egg, and once in a while I'll add bacon, sausage or some other easy-to-prepare meat. But most of the time, my breakfast is just eggs, a big splash of Tabasco and nada más.

Which means for more than a year, I've been eating about fourteen eggs a week.

More importantly, here's what I don't eat for breakfast: I skip the orange juice, I skip milk. I skip overpriced cereal, toast, and all the rest of the mostly unnecessary foods our society considers "normal" parts of a balanced breakfast.

Other than this change to my breakfast, I've otherwise maintained my reasonably healthy diet and lifestyle.

As a breakfast food, eggs fit my needs perfectly. Unlike carb-heavy cereal, eggs don't leave me ravenous ninety minutes later. They won't give me a brief burst of glucose spaz and then leave me dragging the rest of the morning. Because they're high in protein, eggs are a "slow burn" food with a high satiety factor, so it's sometimes four or five hours before I feel hungry again. Plus, it's easy (and laughably cheap) to fry up a couple of eggs: in 3-4 minutes you're fueled up and ready to go.

Well. A few weeks ago, I went in for a physical and bloodwork. Laura makes me go every so often, so I make sure I go grudgingly and make a big passive-aggressive production out of it.

This year, however, I was really interested to see my cholesterol levels. Would this egg-heavy diet impact my blood cholesterol? I've always had good numbers and good ratios, and my total cholesterol has been stable for years in the 160-170 range.

And the results were a huge surprise. My cholesterol fell even more: from an already-low 165 on my prior test... to a hard-to-believe 146. With good ratios.

After all those eggs--fourteen eggs a week for more than a year--my cholesterol numbers went from excellent to kickass.

Is this a controlled study? No. Is this a scientifically defensible experiment? Duh, of course not. And no, "kickass" is not (yet) a scientifically valid term. This is just a single anecdote, from one guy, with his own genetic and environmental markers. Your mileage is almost guaranteed to vary.

But there's one conclusion you can safely consider here: the link between dietary cholesterol and blood serum cholesterol is far more tenuous than you think. Food for thought, isn't it?

For Further Reading:
Understanding Cholesterol Numbers at WebMD

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Sally said...

I've had the same experience. I went from a nearly vegan diet to one with more meat, eggs, and dairy, including (gasp!) butter -- and sometimes heavy cream. I don't use reduced-fat versions of anything.

When it was time for annual doctor visit, I considered going back to my old diet, but then decided that if my cholesterol was elevated, I'd just tell the doctor what I'd been doing and then make the switch back.

Much to my surprise my cholesterol was lower than it had ever been. One year it was 126 and my doctor sent me a note saying "I don't know what you're doing, but keep it up!" It hasn't been above 150 in about 8 years.

The only time I'm aware of that my cholesterol was elevated in the last 20 years was during a time when I was under a lot of stress and resorted to eating a fairly large quantity of manufactured foods.

The only thing I've given up is manufactured/processed foods. I haven't purposely given up any other food or food group. I'm not fond of whole grains, but I do use refined grains (flour and rice).

Anonymous said...

I am also an eggs for breakfast gal. 90% of the time. (I had cheese this morning... & occasionally have a bowl of oatmeal.)

I haven't checked the blood in a while, but it is doing wonders for my diet/exercise regime.

Dave said...

Congrats! I eat a very similar breakfast most of the week and have very good cholesterol numbers as well.

My nutritionist likes to compare cholesterol to fire fighters. Inflammation is a fire in your body(often brought on by too many carbs). Cholesterol is what you body send out to put out the fire.

So you don't stop fires by eliminating the fire fighters. You fight it by eliminating the cause of the fire.

chacha1 said...

Purely anecdotally, a high-protein diet (without fat restrictions) seems to be working for my husband and me too. We both had physicals last fall and had very good numbers overall.

I will not be at all surprised if, a few years down the road, someone has managed to scrounge together enough money to do a proper study and finds that high sugar/starch diets are solidly correlated with high blood cholesterol.

To me it just seems illogical to suppose that a high sugar/starch diet, which is already known to be associated with autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, would not also be associated with high blood cholesterol.

Joanne said...

I've seen a lot of studies recently about eggs saying that, contrary to previous belief, the cholesterol and saturated fat in them is actually somehow good for your blood levels...I'm not sure that they have a mechanism for how that happens yet but my guess is that there's some other nutrient in the eggs that is helping all this along. I've become an egg FIEND lately so I am super happy to hear this!