Harvard Heart Letter

Cholesterol: What's diet got to do with it?


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Cholesterol in the foods you eat generally has little effect on levels in your bloodstream. But your overall diet does.

Cholesterol has a bad reputation, thanks to its well-known role in promoting heart disease. Excess cholesterol in the bloodstream is a key contributor to artery-clogging plaque, which can accumulate and set the stage for a heart attack. But if you're like many people, you might not understand cholesterol's other key functions—or the connection between the cholesterol you eat and that in your bloodstream.

Although we measure cholesterol in the blood, it's found in every cell in the body. A waxy, whitish-yellow fat, cholesterol is a crucial building block in cell membranes. It's also used to make vitamin D, hormones, and fat-dissolving bile acids.

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