Is Cholesterol Really That Bad? - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on June 17, 2015

Is Cholesterol Really That Bad?

Research has suggested that dietary cholesterol has very little impact on your risk of heart disease.

Research has suggested that dietary cholesterol
has very little impact on your risk of heart disease.

When considering whether a food is healthy or not, we often check to see how much cholesterol it contains. We’ve been taught that high cholesterol is bad, and that we should avoid it. Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the fats in your blood. While the body needs some cholesterol for essential functions, having high cholesterol puts your health at risk.

If you have high “bad” LDL cholesterol, fatty deposits may form in your blood vessels. This can make it difficult for enough blood to flow through arteries, causing your heart to possibly not get as much oxygen-rich blood as it needs. If this happens, the risk of a heart attack and stroke rise.

Sometimes high cholesterol is inherited, but more often than not it is the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices.

So it makes sense that for years that we’ve been told to monitor how much cholesterol we consume. However, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which advises Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released a report that refuted this common belief.

The 500 page report says we should follow diets that are rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes and nuts; moderate in low and non-fat dairy products and alcohol; lower in red and processed meat; and low in refined grains and sugar-sweetened foods and drinks.

But one thing this recommendation is missing is any mention of cholesterol. In fact, in the report, the committee stated that cholesterol is “not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”

It turns out eating foods that contain cholesterol, most notably eggs, may not be as bad as we originally thought.

In 2010, the dietary guidelines placed cholesterol under the “foods and food components to reduce category.” The guidelines also advised to eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. As a reference, each egg contains about 164 milligrams of cholesterol.

However, research has suggested that dietary cholesterol has very little impact on your risk of heart disease. Multiple studies have analyzed the intake of dietary cholesterol and the risk of heart disease and they haven’t found any strong evidence that there’s a link between them.

This new information does not mean you should start eating five-egg cheese and bacon omelets for breakfast every day. While the research doesn’t find a concrete link between eating cholesterol-containing foods and an increased risk of heart disease, there also isn’t evidence that eating more eggs reduces the risk of heart disease. Eggs are safe to add to a heart-healthy diet, but they shouldn’t take center stage.

Despite the slight changes to dietary guidelines, it’s important to keep in mind that they are guidelines, not hard and fast rules that guarantee anything. The fact remains that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains with moderate to low amounts of dairy, alcohol, sweets, meats and refined grains is one of the best approaches to eating for your health.

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