According to the National Health Morbidity Survey in the year 2015, the overall prevalence of high blood cholesterol among adults aged 18 and above was 47.7% or 9.6million Malaysian. In simple words, almost 1 in 2 Malaysian adults have high blood total cholesterol levels. High blood cholesterol is a silent killer because some are undiagnosed cases, which indicated a low level of awareness and testing uptake by Malaysians. High blood cholesterol also could lead to other non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease .
Let’s start to discuss about some of the cholesterol myths and facts [2,3]:
1. Cholesterol only comes from the foods we eat
Not true. Cholesterol comes from two sources. While food is one of them, cholesterol is also produced by our liver for various important functions such as the production of hormones and the absorption of fat from food.
2. We should not eat foods containing bad cholesterol
This is an incorrect statement. Animal-based foods do contain cholesterol, but there is no good or bad cholesterol in food. Good (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL) are only found in the blood. With good dietary practices and an active lifestyle, a person can raise his or her HDL cholesterol level in the blood.
3. Kids can’t have high blood cholesterol
No. Researcher has shown that kids as young as eight years of age can have high blood cholesterol. This is particularly for children who inherit high cholesterol levels from one or both parents, a condition called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). These children are at high risk for premature heart attack or stroke.
4. Only overweight or obese people have high blood cholesterol
Not true. Being overweight or obese increases the chances of having high cholesterol, but being thin doesn’t protect you from the problem. Regardless of your weight, diet, and level of physical activity, you should have your cholesterol checked on a regular basis.
5. Santan (coconut milk) contains high cholesterol
A popular misconception. There is no cholesterol in coconut milk. Cholesterol is only found in animal products such as egg, meat, poultry, and dairy products. However, coconut milk contains saturated fat that can raise blood cholesterol levels.
6. It is not encouraged to eat eggs because they are high in cholesterol
Not true. Eggs do contain cholesterol. However, cholesterol from foods such as eggs is poorly absorbed into the body and thus contributes to a small rise in blood cholesterol. Therefore, we can continue to eggs and give them to our children as they are nutritious.
Excessive cholesterol in the blood should be avoided as this can lead to artery blockage and heart disease. Hence, the recommended total cholesterol value should less than 5.2mmol/L; HDL cholesterol (good) should more than 1.6mmol/L, and LDL (bad) cholesterol should less than 3.3mmol/L .
To achieve a normal blood cholesterol level, we can change in lifestyle habits. First, eat a healthy balanced diet. You should consume more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish. Eat less saturated fat such as coconut oil, coconut milk, fatty part of meat, poultry’s skin, butter, processed meat and salt. Second, try to limit alcohol intake, which is good to help reduce cholesterol and triglycerides level. Third, loss excess body fat because being overweight may contribute to high bad cholesterol levels. Lastly, exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Exercise helps to increase good cholesterol (HDL) and reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) .
In summary, public should minimize the use of total fat in food preparation in order to keep total daily fat intake between 20% to 30% energy (45-65gram of fat).
- National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2015 [online], 2016. [online]. Iku.gov.my. Available from: http://www.iku.gov.my/images/IKU/Document/REPORT/2015/PressMeetYBMKNHMS2015.pdf [Accessed 24 Jun 2020].
- Cholesterol Myths and Facts [online], 2019. [online]. Heart.org. Available from: https://www.heart.org/-/media/files/health-topics/cholesterol/cholesterolmythsfacts_2-27-19.pdf?la=en [Accessed 22 Jun 2020].
- Common Misconceptions about Cholesterol [online], 2017. [online]. www.heart.org. Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/about-cholesterol/common-misconceptions-about-cholesterol [Accessed 22 Jun 2020].
- Yayasan Jantung Malaysia – Inherited Cholesterol Disorder [online], 2020. [online]. Yjm.org.my. Available from: http://www.yjm.org.my/index.cfm?&menuid=35 [Accessed 24 Jun 2020].