Authors Dr Guy-André Pelouze

Misconceptions about Cholesterol and Palm Oil

A classic misconception found with patients with cardiovascular disease, is to eat little cholesterol and little fat. While it has been taboo for many years, this is increasingly discussed, even to the point of being questioned.

Until now, there has been enough interest in cholesterol foods to let the unverified hypothesis grow that “by eating less food with cholesterol, we will end up with less cholesterol in atheroma plaque.”

In fact, this simply isn’t true. We realize now that the cholesterol we eat has little impact. Our body is not a reservoir. It is a metabolic machine. When cholesterol plaques will form in the liver, they will be recombined.

Cholesterol intake and presence of cholesterol in the body are not necessarily related, it may well be produced by the liver. The best example being a vegetarian can have cholesterol in their blood but have not eaten foods actually that contain any.

For a long time it was considered that the body as a silo; if cholesterol we ingest goes in the liver, it makes a recombination of the lipid particles.

Among the primary risk factors, we find LDL particles. However, these may be present in the body, whether we ingested foods with cholesterol or not. However, they are more atherogenic when we eat sugars.

Therefore, it is inappropriate to be mostly concerned about the cholesterol content in foods, for two reasons:

  • We will deprive ourselves of natural foods (eg whole eggs contain cholesterol but do not bear a risk)
  • When trying to avoid it, we will systematically replace them with white bread, jam … in short, the risk is an increased consumption of foods containing sugars and thus the increased risk of CVD.

Patients spontaneously look for foods that will indicate the presence of a low cholesterol. In doing so, they will rush on “food with labels”, that are generally processed foods. But most of the time in these food products, carbohydrates replaced cholesterols.

Therefore it is essential to dispose of the idea that absolutely need to consume less than 300 grams of cholesterol per day. This “obsession” turns out, as we have shown, to be misleading. Further, it may induce inappropriate behaviours which consequences could be downright opposed to the expected positive effect.

Palm oil, which has a good balance between saturated and unsaturated fats, is also a victim of these prejudices. The misconception on cholesterol and saturated fatty acids could get manufacturers in that biased thinking we have just denounced: the eviction of foods containing cholesterol led to replace them. Yet, manufacturers have replaced fats with sugar, which has led to opposite consequences.

By Dr Guy André Pelouze

Dr Guy-André Pelouze is a French cardio-thoracic surgeon, and a founder of the French think-tank and research group Institut de Recherche Clinique (Institute of Clinical Research). Dr Pelouze is a widely quoted writer and commentator on health and nutrition in France, and is the founder of the Food Facts Index, an independent website focusing on food-related issues in both French and English.