Since the 1960’s Americans have been warned against too much cholesterol consumption. Now, in one of the most drastic changes to nation’s dietary guidelines, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) says cholesterol consumption is no longer something we need to be concerned about.
According to the DGAC and nutrition research, over the last five years cholesterol in the diet does not significantly impact the body’s cholesterol levels. This doesn’t mean individuals shouldn’t be concerned about the cholesterol present in their bodies; it simply means there is no urgent need to worry about cholesterol intake from foods, at least when it comes to cholesterol levels in the body.
The reasons for the new guidelines stem from the fact dietary cholesterol studies linked to heart disease are speculative at best. In 2013, a task force arranged by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association looked at dietary cholesterol studies and found there was “insufficient evidence” to link dietary cholesterol to cholesterol levels in the body.
Looking back at the literature, we just couldnt see the kind of science that would support dietary restrictions, said Robert Eckel, the co-chair of the task force and a medical professor at the University of Colorado, reported by The Washington Post.
Part of the issue with dietary cholesterol studies is saturated fats, those associated with high cholesterol in food, are not a single compound. These fats are made up of different fatty acids and micronutrients, and some are better than others. Dairy fats, for example, long heralded as one of the worst high cholesterol foods, have recently been shown in research to lower cardiovascular disease risk.
Cholesterol in foods is not a black or white issue
Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusettes, told Medscape saturated fats in high cholesterol foods are biologically complicated, affecting too many aspects of the human body to focus just on cholesterol levels. “They dont just affect LDL-C, they affect particle size, they affect HDL-C and triglycerides. It’s not clear which [ones] are better or worse if you look at all of those effects,” he said.
Mozaffarian also indicated focusing on a single compound in food, like cholesterol, can lead to inappropriate food recommendations. “Dairy is a perfect example of how focusing on single nutrients leads to silly recommendations. It’s an incredibly complicated category of foods…but our guidelines for dairy are based on theory about calcium content and vitamin D,” he noted. “The School Lunch Program allows chocolate skim milk and banned whole milk. That’s absurd. There’s no evidence that whole milk is bad for kids.”
The complexity of cholesterol-containing foods is why the DGAC has dropped current guidelines against them.
This doesn’t mean you should neglect your weight
Consumers need to keep two things in mind, however, according to experts. First, just because cholesterol guidelines have changed doesn’t mean it is okay to suddenly make a regular diet high in fat. High fat means high calories which can lead to obesity and can affect heart health in other ways.
Second, high cholesterol in the blood still is attributed to heart disease. Just because food isn’t a major direct contributor doesn’t mean people can ignore cholesterol levels. Diet aside, risks that elevate cholesterol in the body include: obesity, smoking, lack of exercise, and diabetes.
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Exercise and a healthy diet will remain staples in the fight against cardiovascular disease, but doctors are now focusing on the other risk factors that affect cholesterol. Whats more, there will be a greater push to place people with high cholesterol on statins, medications designed to lower cholesterol.
People shouldnt be afraid of statins,” said Lloyd-Jones, a preventive cardiologist, in an American Heart Association press release. “They can be lifesaving. If we can expand the pool of people who are taking statins because theyre at risk, we could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 30 to 50 percent in the coming decades.