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National Dietary Guidelines Regarding Cholesterol

Every five years, officials from the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services meet to review and revise national dietary guidelines. The most recent recommendation(2105) regarding the consumption of high-cholesterol foods has changed.

The advisory panel stated that “cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for over-consumption.”

After all, cholesterol, maligned as it is, plays an important role in the body’s health. It helps with the creation of hormones, bile acid and Vitamin D amongst other benefits. Further, our bodies are good at regulating cholesterol.

But what does this “license to eat” mean in practical terms? Plainly stated, it means cholesterol consumed in many foods is now thought to play a relatively insignificant role in determining blood levels of cholesterol. That said, serum cholesterol — cholesterol in your bloodstream — is still considered an important risk factor for heart disease. As a result, saturated fats and trans fats, which are two components of the worst offending foods, should still be avoided.

There are not many commonly enjoyed foods that are both high in cholesterol but low in saturated fat. Only eggs, shellfish and liver tend to fall into that category. Most will be low or high in both.

So let’s consider the foods that are generally unacceptable for people looking to keep their serum cholesterol in check. These patients should avoid:

  • Items made with whole milk – cheeses, milk, ice cream and more. Lower fat versions of these foods and drinks may be acceptable but only in moderation. Skim avoids fats altogether
  • Fatty cuts of red meat as well as the skin of other meats (chicken, turkey, pork) all contain significant amounts of saturated fat
  • Processed and cured meat such as bacon, fried chicken and fatty hamburgers

Processed foods of all kinds may have high levels of saturated fats and even trans fats due to ingredients like partially hydrogenated vegetable oils — think packaged cookies and cakes. Trans fats have been shown to simultaneously increase levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol in the blood and decrease levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. Luckily, they are increasingly hard to find on today’s supermarket shelves.

So, what should we be eating? A balanced, healthful diet consisting of lean meats and fish, whole grains, healthy oils, nuts, beans and fruits and vegetables. The Mediterranean Diet is a good example of how we should be eating to maximize heart health. The less your food is processed, the better. Usually, you find these minimally processed food items on the outer walls of the supermarkets and they are often refrigerated.

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