Turns out, it’s the genes that drive cholesterol levels
For years, we’ve been advised to avoid high-cholesterol foods for better heart health, but it might be time to flip the script on that advice.
A nutrition advisory committee says we no longer have to be concerned about eating foods that are high in cholesterol. The committee’s report, will help shape the next version of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, scheduled for release later this year.
Too much “bad” cholesterol in the blood, which has been linked to heart disease, is still a concern. What’s different is that researchers and physicians now believe eating cholesterol-rich foods (think: eggs and butter) may not affect cholesterol in your bloodstream.
Sound confusing? We admit it is complicated. Cholesterol, a waxy substance that accumulates on the walls of your arteries, causes the plaques that lead to heart attacks and strokes. Current dietary guidelines say our daily cholesterol intake should be no more than 300 milligrams.
But researchers are just starting to understand the relationship between cholesterol and the body. This is what they’ve discovered:
The body regulates the amount of cholesterol in your blood.
There are different kinds of cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein or LDL (bad) cholesterol contributes to plaque buildup, along with triglycerides. High-density lipoprotein or HDL (good) cholesterol actually fights against plaque buildup.
The way people process cholesterol differs. Some people seem to be more vulnerable to cholesterol-rich diets.
It’s becoming clearer to scientists that your genetic makeup—not the food you consume—is what drives cholesterol levels. Our bodies (specifically our liver) create cholesterol in much higher amounts than what we can eat; about 85 percent of circulating cholesterol is produced by our liver. So cutting back on cholesterol-rich foods doesn’t help our blood cholesterol levels very much.
What we should be concerned about is foods that are high in trans fats. That’s the greater danger, the experts say, and the one getting less attention in the press. So check food labels for hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Those types of fats tend to raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.
The new U.S. Dietary Guidelines will be announced later this year. Another caution: People with certain health problems, such as diabetes, should continue to avoid foods high in cholesterol, according to the committee report.