Is Dietary Cholesterol Really the Villain It’s Made Out To Be?

Almost everything you knew about dietary cholesterol is wrong!

Updated
Health News
3 min read
Experts don’t exactly have egg on their face, but a historic reversal may change what you eat for breakfast (Photo: iStock)

For several years now, cholesterol has been painted as a villain and cholesterol containing foods have been blacklisted. But now a key report in the US, ‘Dietary Guidelines for Americans,’ has found that the warnings to avoid foods like eggs, butter, meat, bacon and liver could have been flawed.

Despite the fact that the medical establishment has long been divided on this issue, foods high in cholesterol have been branded as dangerous to human health since the late 70s and early 80s. Of late, a growing number of scientists and experts have been arguing that there is no link between high cholesterol in food and a rise in its levels in the blood.

Cholesterol: No Longer a Food Concern

Make no mistake here: high levels of cholesterol in the blood is still considered risky for heart disease, but eating eggs doesn’t appear to significantly raise those levels (Photo: iStock)
Make no mistake here: high levels of cholesterol in the blood is still considered risky for heart disease, but eating eggs doesn’t appear to significantly raise those levels (Photo: iStock)

Every five years, the Department of Health and Human Services issues the ‘Dietary Guidelines for Americans,’ which has far-reaching consequences on what the world eats.

What’s stirring the pot now is the point:

“Cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”

This dramatic u-turn will most likely undo almost 40 years of public health warnings about eating fried foods, milk, eggs, ghee, coconut oil, which are rich in cholesterol. This implies that these cholesterol-dense foods are classified as “safe” and officially removed from the “nutrients of concern” list.

Dr Steven Nissen of Cleveland clinic admits that these guidelines have been flawed.  Understandably, aspersions are being cast on the pharmaceutical and food industry.

It is time to bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease. The food industry has effectively contributed to heart disease by lowering saturated fat levels in food and replacing it with sugar.
Dr Aseem Malhotra, Cardiologist, United Kingdom

Dietary cholesterol was always maligned from the start.

Let’s Be Clear What It Means For Us

The warning about cholesterol has been going on since 1977 in America (Photo: iStock)
The warning about cholesterol has been going on since 1977 in America (Photo: iStock)

So can you freely gorge into the foods you’ve always loved but were scared to eat? Is it a thumbs up to cakes, pastries, mouth-watering paranthas and puris?

Not really.

Cholesterol containing foods continue to be on the naughty list for causing obesity which has its own problems. But now that you know that full-fat dairy products and nuts are high in HDL, that’s the good, cardio-protective cholesterol, you can feel less guilty about eating these foods.

The issue of dietary cholesterol, of course, is distinct from the level of cholesterol in the blood, which should continue to be monitored, because it can cause heart diseases.

So, the key is ‘balance’. Eat in moderation and balance the calories with physical exercise. Consume fewer foods with sodium (salt), saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, and refined grains.

In this ever-changing medical world, where the guidelines change faster than fashion, let us see when this new ‘evidence’ is turned on its head. For now, it sure is going to remind you of your grandmother’s “I-told-you-so-years-ago” stance.

(Dr Ashwini Setya is a Gastroenterologist and Programme Director in Delhi’s Max Super Speciality Hospital. His endeavor is to help people lead a healthy life without medication. He can be reached at ashwini.setya@gmail.com)

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