Cholesterol Controversy: New HHS/USDA Guidelines and Your Diet

a man creates a drawing of a heart beat monitor to symbolize cholesterol

From eggs to ice cream, cholesterol is everywhere. While this substance is essential for normal cell development, it’s more commonly associated with negative conditions like heart disease. Because of this, dietary experts have been urging people for years to limit their daily intake—however, all of that might soon change.

A report from an organization that is highly influential in the development of national dietary guidelines for the United States will soon be releasing a report that, in some ways, challenges conventional wisdom about cholesterol. If the country adopts their recommendations, you might not be hearing as much about high-cholesterol dangers as you once did.

Here is a look at how we currently view dietary cholesterol, what changes are being proposed, and how they might affect your own diet and health goals.

Current Cholesterol Guidelines

As of now, most researchers and laypeople agree that diets high in cholesterol play a crucial role in the development of heart disease. Recommendations about limiting its intake have been around since the 1960s, when the American Heart Association first issued a warning about the dangers of excessive consumption.

While modifications have been made to the government’s official cholesterol guidelines in the past 50 years, the belief that most citizens need to be reducing their intake through limiting high cholesterol foods has not wavered. Currently, it’s recommended that healthy individuals eat no more than 300 milligrams each day, while those with pre-existing heart disease should eat no more than 200 milligrams daily.

In addition to dietary changes, the American Heart Association and similar organizations also recommend weight loss and regular physical activity as a means to control cholesterol levels.

Potential Changes to Cholesterol Guidelines

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the organization responsible for influencing the United States’ dietary recommendations, released their newest report on nutritional intake guidelines in 2015. Reports are revisited and revised every 5 years. For this revision, the group no longer considers cholesterol to be “a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”

While this change is significant, it should not be taken to mean that all knowledge up to this point about cholesterol is null and void. There is still a causal link between the substance and health issues like heart attacks and strokes, but the effects of diet on cholesterol levels may not be an influential as researchers once thought.

According to statements on these changes by Steven Nissen, the chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, dietary cholesterol only makes up about 20% of a person’s total cholesterol. While it may still have an impact, it doesn’t affect levels nearly as much as previously thought. Statements like these are still somewhat controversial among health researchers, but a number of other prominent individual scientists and health organizations have also spoken out in support of the committee’s changes as well.

What This Means for Your Diet

For now, it’s important that you don’t make any rash dietary changes based on the information in this new report. While low-cholesterol foods may not be as effective as once thought at lowering total cholesterol levels, many of these foods are beneficial in other ways, such as being low in fat, sugar, and salt.

It’s especially crucial to stick with your low-cholesterol diet if you’re dealing with diabetes, as the condition can lower your “good” cholesterol levels (HDL) while raising your “bad” cholesterol levels (LDL).

Ultimately, it’s not likely that this issue will be settled any time soon. Scientific knowledge is constantly changing as new information is discovered, which can make it difficult to create hard-and-fast rules when developing dietary guidelines. The most important thing you can do in terms of both cholesterol and other health issues is to stay informed about current research. This, in conjunction with advice from your doctor, is the best way to ensure that you’re eating the foods you should be and avoiding the ones that may be unhealthy.