Dr. Joel Kahn: Why Your Cholesterol Really Does Matter (Ignore nonsense claims) – Deadline Detroit

Twice-monthly health columns are by a practicing cardiologist, clinical professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine and founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity in Bingham Farms. He’s an author who has appeared on national TV, including “Dr. Oz” and “The Doctors Show.” 

By Dr. Joel Kahn


“Cholesterol levels matter. Cholesterol levels don’t matter.”

There is confusion in the media with headlines that blood cholesterol levels are “no longer a target” for disease prevention, so enjoy your eggs and bacon.


Over the years, I have seen many patients suffer major heart attacks and the only indentifiable explanation was an elevated cholesterol level. You might read that butter is back, meat is a treat, coconut oil is the new kale, high cholesterol is good, your brain needs lots and lots of fats, and … STOP! This is not the scientific consensus, but media hype, because bad diets are an easy sell.

After intense discussion and debate, federal dietary guidelines made it crystal clear when they stated: “People should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible. In general, foods that are higher in dietary cholesterol, such as fatty meats and high-fat dairy products, are also higher in saturated fats (which should be limited to 10 percent of total calories per day). The primary healthy eating style described in the dietary guidelines is limited in saturated fats, and thus, dietary cholesterol”. 

Did you know plant foods like beans have no cholesterol? Only animals can make cholesterol.

Adopting a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans is a certain way to lower or eliminate dietary cholesterol. Beware of the dangerous saturated fats you get in foods like cheeses, chicken, meats and eggs.

Are there exceptions?

Dr. Joel Kahn: “Bad diets are an easy sell.”

It may be confusing but there are some plant foods high in saturated fats, even if they have no cholesterol. The highest of all is coconut oil. Coconut oil is not a whole food — it has been processed to remove the water and coconut meat. Coconut oil has a whopping 92 percent calories from saturated fat.

There is no data that coconut oil is good or even safe for heart arteries. Extra-virgin olive oil, in contrast, has 15 percent of calories from saturated fat,  and as many studies indicatie, has health benefits.

Here’s the ideal cholesterol levels: Total: 170 mg. or less. Non-HDL: 120 mg. or less. LDL 100 mg. or less. HDL: 45 mg or more.

5 Tips to Lowe Blood Cholesterol

1. Eat more whole plants daily: Fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, peas and whole grains like oat bran and oatmeal.

2. Plant stanols, which block cholesterol absorption, can be found in sunflower seeds, peanuts, avocados and sesame seeds (but not too many).

3. Eat a dozen raw almonds a day in place of chips and junk foods. Almonds are rich in minerals, vitamin E and fiber, and they lower cholesterol levels.

4. Increase fiber in your diet because it binds cholesterol in the gut. Two big bowls of oatmeal, lentils, chickpeas, barley, or beans a day will meet this goal. Five servings of fruits and vegetables can add half of the target amount of soluble fiber.

5. Soy foods are high in fiber, low in saturated fat, and a good complete protein source. Organic soy milk, tofu and edamame are good choices. Soy nuts can be a good snack or added to salads.

My patients who embraced these diet lowered their cholesterol and have experienced amazing results. You can too.

Earlier columns