For decades, we’ve been told that cholesterol consumption is, for want of a better word, the Devil. The more cholesterol you eat, the more likely you are to have a heart attack and die. As a result, westerners have ditched cholesterol-rich animal products like never before, replacing them with supposedly healthy plant-and vegetable-based oils. And yet, our health has never been worse. So what’s the deal? In truth, cholesterol is not the devil; rather, it’s essential to general and especially hormonal health, and new research is even showing that it may be more essential to muscle growth than protein.
Two short case studies.
Number one –
It’s long been noted that the French consume more butter per capita than any other nation in the world. In 2015, per capita consumption was 8kg, or 17.6lb, per person.
So how could it be that the French aren’t all collapsing in the boulevards and rues from heart attacks caused by heart disease? After all, aren’t we told that saturated fat is just about the worst thing you can eat – a guaranteed early ticket to the afterlife?
Compare obesity levels in France and the US, which has less than a third of the per capita butter consumption of France. I think you probably already have a good idea which is the fatter country – but the margin is quite significant. Whereas in France, 10% of the population is obese, in the US that figure rises to more than 20%.
Number two –
NOOOO! NOT THE HECKIN LOW-FAT-ERINO!
“The University of Worcester study combined a systematic review and meta-analysis. The results of six controlled studies with a total of 206 participants were considered. These studies first put men on a high-fat diet (40% fat), and then transferred them to a low-fat diet (20% fat), and found that it decreases testosterone by 10-15% on average.
Worst of all was the transition to a low-fat diet combined with vegetarianism, which decreases testosterone by up to 26%.”
What is it that unites these two studies in particular? Well, fat, obviously, but more specifically saturated fat and a molecule it contains in abundance: cholesterol. Cholesterol may well be one of the most maligned substances in modern health – it’s probably a toss-up with ‘tobacco’ – but recent research is suggesting that what we’re commonly told about cholesterol is probably totally wrong.
Dietary cholesterol is good. Yes, that’s right.
There’s now ample evidence that most people’s consumption of dietary cholesterol has nothing to do with their blood cholesterol levels, and even the much-vaunted link between dietary cholesterol and heart disease is now being re-examined. [R]
So how did we get to the point where we believed the opposite? Let’s find out!
Vegetable Oils and Ancel Keys
‘Physiologist’ Ancel Keys
In our article on vegetable oils – which we called ‘one of the worst things you can eat’ – we wrote the following:
The story of how saturated fat – the natural animal products man has sustained himself upon since time immemorial – and cholesterol came to be seen in a negative light is an interesting one; we won’t, however, relate it in detail here, but will instead point you to chapter seven of Catherine Shanahan’s Deep Nutrition for a detailed account. To put it briefly, the process had little to do with good science and everything to do with the personal arrogance and vengefulness of an uncredentialed imposter called Ancel Keys, who had designed the famous K-ration during World War II.
In recent years, the ‘evidence’ behind Keys’ hypothesis that saturated fat consumption is directly correlated with heart disease has been demolished, and his jerrymandering and bad faith have been revealed. What is clear now is that, rather than saturated fats being the cause of the health conditions Keys claimed they were, it is the products he advocated instead, including margarine, that are almost certainly the real culprits. Interestingly enough, even Keys came to renounce his earlier ‘research’; although this has never been part of the public story.
When it comes to good and bad fats, PD Mangan knows what’s up
The Truth about Cholesterol
Vince Gironda knew that cholesterol was essential to muscle growth and health
In our recent article on foods to boost your testosterone, we discussed how saturated fat and cholesterol intake, in particular the consumption of eggs, is actually pro-anabolic, causing increases in testosterone and protein synthesis in the body.
Two studies show the following: 1) that low saturated fat intake is clearly associated with reduced testosterone, and 2) that consuming only egg whites is less anabolic than consuming whole eggs, including the cholesterol-rich yolk.
Indeed, the work of Steve Riechman has shown a closer correlation between dietary cholesterol intake and lean muscle growth than between protein intake and lean muscle growth (see these two studies (one) (two).
How about that? Some have even started to refer to cholesterol as ‘the forgotten anabolic’, and not without reason. Back in the Golden Age, Vince Gironda knew that animal fats and cholesterol, especially through eggs, was a surefire way to build muscle. In fact, Vince even claimed that a cycle of 36-eggs-a-day over eight weeks could come close to the effects of a cycle of dianabol, the most popular steroid of the day.
Click here to read about Vince Gironda’s 36-eggs a day diet, a classic Golden Era mass-gainer diet that was informed by Vince’s wide-ranging reading in history, anthropology and the latest scientific research.
Beyond the cholesterol, eggs are one of nature’s most complete foods. As well as being a source of inexpensive, high-quality protein – they contain all nine essential amino acids – eggs are rich in various vitamins and minerals including selenium, zinc, iron and copper and vitamins A, B2, B6, B12, D, E and K.
A low cholesterol intake may be the reason why lacto-ovo vegetarian diets (vegetarian + milk and eggs) generally tend to result in less muscle growth than omnivorous diets even when the same amount of protein is consumed; although it should be noted that lacto-ovo diets are much better than normal vegetarian diets – as shown by the second case study at the beginning of the article. Plant fats contain 100 times less cholesterol than animal fats.
At the same time though it’s worth noting that the quality of plant protein is also significantly less than the quality of animal protein, as we discussed in a recent article on why Europeans tend to be the tallest people in the world (hint: it’s got something to do with eating animal rather than plant protein).
But That’s Not All
The benefits of cholesterol-rich animal fats do not end there. While we’ve been told for many decades now that lowering your cholesterol intake and your blood cholesterol is an unalloyed good, that it will make you healthier and live longer, unfortunately the evidence is now piling up that the opposite is true.
Reducing cholesterol can actually kill you.
For example, one study showed that men who had a recent heart attack and changed to low-cholesterol safflower oil from saturated fat had a 62% increased all-cause death rate.
Another study showed that every 30-point decrease in cholesterol leads to a 22% increased death rate.
Mangan with more truth bombs about cholesterol. The Honolulu study closely reproduces the findings of the Finnish study mentioned below.
In a Finnish study of total cholesterol and mortality among over 75s, those in the highest third of cholesterol had half the death rates of those of the lowest.
In another study covering 13 million subjects, low total cholesterol was associated with an increased all-cause mortality risk.
Maybe instead of looking to cholesterol when trying to understand risk for coronary heart disease – the biggest killer worldwide – we should instead be looking at factors like insulin resistance and diabetes.
One study showed that diabetes was the biggest risk factor for coronary heart disease, whereas LDL – ‘bad’ – cholesterol levels had a very weak correlation.
Another study of serum biomarkers and mortality risk showed that elevated death risk was associated with higher fasting blood glucose (i.e. insulin resistance) and triglycerides, whereas death risk decreased with higher total, HDL and LDL cholesterol.
What does this mean?
So, what should you do? Well, you certainly shouldn’t be afraid of animal fats and cholesterol, that’s for sure. Stop throwing away those egg yolks and start cooking with butter instead. Don’t believe the propaganda that plant-based meats are better for you: they aren’t.
At the same time, you should realise that cholesterol isn’t the only reason you should be favouring high-quality animal fat sources over plant-based and vegetable oils. If you want the full lowdown on why the ‘healthy’ oils we’ve been told to consume are in fact a health nightmare, read our article on vegetable oil, or our recent piece on how soybean oil, the most popular vegetable oil in the US, causes serious genetic dysfunction and neurological damage in mice.