Mass media’s interpretation of medical reports is often suspect. Who wants to buy a newspaper with headline, “Not Much Is New.” The new proposed dietary guidelines do make some changes, but they don’t exactly live up to the recent headlines suggesting that eating cholesterol-rich foods doesn’t matter.
Here are some essential points:
~ Cholesterol in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is a waxy substance produced by humans and other animals to create hormones, Vitamin D and healthy cell walls.
~ The level in the blood however, the serum cholesterol as measured on blood tests, is still considered an important risk factor for coronary artery disease (CAD). Most of that cholesterol is actually produced by our own bodies. Dietary cholesterol that we consume in foods can add to that level – moreso in some people than in others. The majority of the population doesn’t respond with a higher serum cholesterol level to consuming more cholesterol, but approximately 30% does, which is a large minority.
~ The controversy is about changing the advice that we limit cholesterol intake to 300 mg per day. As I’ve mentioned in prior articles, nutrition studies are very difficult to control. One study referred to for these guidelines showed that in a given population, eating 3 eggs/day for 30 days didn’t change the subjects’ cholesterol substantially. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Go eat three eggs a day. Here’s the catch – what were they eating before? It’s hard to know. If they were eating a typical high cholesterol American diet, then changing to eating three eggs a day is not a significant change in cholesterol intake. So showing that their cholesterol level didn’t change is kind of meaningless.
~ Think of saturated (bad)fat as fat that is solid at room temperature, like butter or the fat around a steak. Unsaturated (better) oils from plants are liquid and include olive or canola oil. The report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) states that people should still limit trans fats and saturated fats, which are the two leading dietary contributors to high blood cholesterol. Not many foods are high in cholesterol but low in saturated and trans fats. As such, the DGAC would give its blessing to eggs, shellfish and liver, but NOT to cheese, ice cream, bacon and processed foods.
~ The remainder of the recommendations will sound familiar — eat less sugar, salt and saturated fat; increase whole grains, fruits and vegetables; eat less red and processed meats; eat less saturated fat in meat, cheese, butter, coconut and palm kernel oil; and less trans fat.
In looking for information for this article, I did learn that people have VERY strong feelings one way or the other regarding the Advisory Committee report. Personally, I fall back to my very basic philosophy. Eat a varied but plant-dominant diet. These guidelines are not set in stone. They can change at any time. They can be influenced by industry forces.
Here’s the most important part of the Executive Summary of the DGAC 2015 report in my opinion:
“First, about half of all American adults—117 million individuals—have one or more preventable, chronic diseases, and about two-thirds of U.S. adults—nearly 155 million individuals—are overweight or obese… Poor dietary patterns, overconsumption of calories, and physical inactivity directly contribute to these disorders… Positive changes in individual diet and physical activity behaviors, and in the environmental contexts and systems that affect them, could substantially improve health outcomes.”
It’s not about how many milligrams of cholesterol you consume. It’s about lifestyle and aiming for good health in the future. Get there however you see fit!
All comments welcome!