Proposed changes to the country's cholesterol consumption guidelines may cause public confusion over what should be considered healthy eating habits, experts warn.
“We've come a long way in terms of developing more heart-healthy lifestyles, and we still have a lot of work to do,” said Dr. Kim Williams, chief of the cardiology division at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and president-elect of the American College of Cardiology. “I'd hate to see anything undermine the progress that we've made.”
The proposed change to the guidelines could cause some people to stop monitoring their cholesterol intake on the premise that it should no longer be of concern, Williams worried.
“There is some very solid evidence that says we need to be worried about some of the other things that are associated with cholesterol ingestion,” Williams said.
One of those other factors includes the overconsumption of saturated and trans fats, which has been known to raise LDL cholesterol levels that can increase the risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
An example of the differences within dietary cholesterol can be found within the consumption of eggs, which nutrition experts have debated for years as to how many a day can be eaten in order to stay within healthy parameters. One egg consists of the 300mg of cholesterol currently recommended as the daily limit, but eggs do not carry the same high levels of saturated fat that is found in many foods high in cholesterol.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee convened last December and found cholesterol should no longer be considered a “nutrient of concern”.
The panel's recommendation is expected to be part of its upcoming report that will be considered by HHS and the USDA when the federal government issues an update on its dietary guidelines, due to be released this fall.
The change marks a departure from the current dietary guidelines that recommend Americans consume less than 300mg of cholesterol a day. Some experts say eliminating the cholesterol warning could negatively impact decades of effort toward educating the public on what defines a healthy diet.
A 2013 report conducted jointly by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association found there was “insufficient evidence” to issue a recommendation on dietary cholesterol, although it did recommend cutting the level of saturated fat consumed to lower blood cholesterol.
“The problem with making a broad recommendation on dietary cholesterol comes with the fact that it affects people differently,” Williams said. “There are huge differences in how the biochemical handling of cholesterol occurs,” he said. “One of the things we have to do is make sure people are seeing their doctors and being individualized and not lumped into a group where they could be harmed by this.”
The recommendation does not deviate from the core elements of the current dietary guidelines, says Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center of Science in the Public Interest, a consumer health advocacy group. Those guidelines call for an increased daily intake of vegetables and fruits, as well as to consume less than 10% of calories from saturated fat.
She said, though, such a change, as well as studies that question other long-held guidelines regarding the appropriate daily intake of sodium, have the potential of working against public health goals.
“There's been a lot of confusion about this recommendation,” Liebman said. “People think the committee was saying that having high blood cholesterol doesn't matter or that diet has no effect on blood cholesterol, and that's just a mistake.”
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