Cholesterol: One Less Thing to Worry About?
For years, you’ve been told that eating a low-cholesterol diet helps prevent heart disease, but proposed changes to existing dietary guidelines are calling that advice into question. Here’s what you should know.
The dietary guidelines you likely use to maximize your health and well-being are published jointly by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and are updated every five years. To help with this task, a panel of nutritional experts known as the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reviews existing guidelines and suggests updates.
The 2015 committee met in December 2014 — and a surprising proposal has caught many off guard. The committee no longer views dietary cholesterol as a concern and states that there is no benefit to keeping daily cholesterol consumption below 300 milligrams.
Examining the Hype
The recommended change has made headlines and for good reason. Evidence exists to both debunk and support the existing guideline.
“This is a challenging subject,” says Sreenivas Gudimetla, M.D., cardiologist with Consultants in Cardiology, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, and on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. “Most of the cholesterol in the body is synthesized by the liver, so the relationship between dietary cholesterol, fat intake and blood lipid levels is small. In fact, data shows that most heart attack patients have fairly normal cholesterol levels. That being said, other studies have linked high-cholesterol, high-fat diets to inflammation in the coronary arteries that can raise heart attack risk over time, but we aren’t yet sure how this translates to clinical events.”
So what advice should you follow? Dr. Gudimetla believes that watching calories and eating a healthy balance of all foods is more important than limiting any one nutrient or food group.
“If we look at our society in general, there’s no doubt that people are increasing their intake of fruits, vegetables and other foods that do not contain high levels of cholesterol or saturated fats, yet the obesity epidemic is worsening,” Dr. Gudimetla says. “At the end of the day, you have to look at the number of calories people are consuming. Managing your weight and health really revolves around the simple concept of calories in versus calories out.”
For most adults, this means you can enjoy all foods — including eggs and lean red meat — in moderation as long as you also eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and exercise daily. Before making any changes to your diet, however, you should talk with your doctor, especially if you have heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
To find a cardiologist who can help you make sense of dietary guidelines and how they apply to your health, visit THPG.org.
Physicians employed by Texas Health Physicians Group practice independently and are not employees of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.