Dietary cholesterol, one of the most closely monitored and regulated ingredients on American plates because of its believed link to heart disease, is making a comeback. When the federal government updates the guidelines of what we should be eating every day for good health — if it takes the advice of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee — cholesterol will no longer be listed as a “nutrient of concern.” That means adults will no longer be advised to limit cholesterol in the diet to 300 milligrams a day because it is not associated with increased risk of heart disease.
The federal government’s new guidelines, which are expected in the next few weeks, don’t mean we can eat unlimited amounts of liver, shrimp or other cholesterol-rich foods. Moderation is still encouraged, but it does mean you can enjoy whole eggs in an omelet, instead of only egg whites. The advice on dietary cholesterol is one of the most anticipated, surprising changes in the U.S. nutrition guidelines. Every 5 years a massive effort is made by the federal government to update recommendations for what makes up a nutritious and healthful diet.
Developing the guidelines is a daunting task which starts with expert scientific panels convening in small subcommittees to discuss the newest research in a particular area. They provide recommendations to the DGAC committee; the committee’s job is submit a report on the best scientific information available, and any changes reflected in the new science. It’s quite a turnaround on cholesterol advice, but after reviewing new scientific papers, the DGAC committee, the major advisory panel to the U.S. government, did not find a health reason to restrict or limit intake to 300 mg a day for most people (a large egg has about 200 mg, all in the yolk).
What does this mean for everyday eating? Nothing yet. For one thing, the scientific panels found the average American appears to be consuming only about 160-250 mg a day anyway, based on self-reported information. And population data do not always translate to the individual, so check with your doctor before making any dietary changes. While the overall data suggests we don’t need to worry about too much cholesterol, some people experience health benefits from monitoring and limiting their daily intake.
And these recommendations — if accepted — won’t become policy anytime soon. When the final guidelines from the DGAC are released, there will be a further 45-day comments period, for anyone in the country to “weigh in.” After that, the federal government will take the final report, and determine the guidelines for 2015, releasing the report sometime in the second half of the year.