Why You Should No Longer Worry About Cholesterol in Food

Genetics appear to be playing a stronger role in heart disease

Bottle of oil, two bricks of butter and scoop of shortening

For years, we’ve been told to avoid high-cholesterol foods for heart health, but those days may be coming to an end.

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A top nutrition advisory committee says people no longer have to be concerned about eating foods that are high in cholesterol. The committee’s report, which was released today, will help shape the next version of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, set to be released later this year.

High levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood, which have been linked to heart disease, are still a health concern. What’s changed is that many researchers and physicians now believe that eating cholesterol-rich foods such as eggs may not affect the cholesterol that is in your blood.

However, people with certain health problems, such as diabetes, should continue to avoid cholesterol-rich foods, the report says.

It’s complicated

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that ultimately ends up in the walls of arteries. It causes the plaques that lead to heart attacks and strokes. The current U.S. Dietary Guidelines call for a daily cholesterol limit of 300 milligrams.

Researchers are beginning to understand in greater depth that the relationship between cholesterol and the body is extremely complicated.

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  • The body regulates how much cholesterol is in your blood.
  • There’s different kinds of cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein or LDL (bad) cholesterol contributes to plaque buildup along with triglycerides, another lipid. High-density lipoprotein or HDL (good) cholesterol discourages plaque buildup.
  • The way people process cholesterol differs. Some people appear to be more vulnerable to cholesterol-rich diets.

Research is beginning to show that your genetic makeup – not diet – is the driving force behind cholesterol levels, says cardiologist Steven Nissen, MD.

The body creates cholesterol in amounts much larger than what you can eat, Dr. Nissen says. So avoiding foods that are high in cholesterol won’t affect your blood cholesterol levels very much.

“About 85 percent of the cholesterol in the circulation is manufactured by the body in the liver,” he says. “It isn’t coming directly from the cholesterol that you eat.”

What you should worry about

The greater danger for everyone is in foods that are high in trans fats, Dr. Nissen says.

“Those often appear on food labels as hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” Dr. Nissen says. “Those types of fats do tend to raise cholesterol and do tend to increase the risk of heart disease.”

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The new U.S. Dietary Guidelines are expected to be announced later this year.

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