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Cholesterol: No Longer a Nutritional Bad Guy?

A key panel publishes recommendations for 2015 dietary guidelines

By Emily Gurnon

Americans need to cut down on sugar, sodium and saturated fat in their diets, but cholesterol should no longer be considered "a nutrient of concern," a government nutrition panel just said.

Bacon, eggs and toasts
Credit: Thinkstock

Available evidence "shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol…," the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee wrote in a report issued this week.
In other words, there isn't necessarily a link between eating a triple-egg omelet every morning and seeing a spike in your blood cholesterol level.
The Guidelines May Seem Baffling

One scientist said the new guidelines could baffle some people.
"I can tell by the media calls I've had already there will be certainly be continuing concern and a little confusion, perhaps, among the public" on that issue, said Linda Van Horn, a professor of preventive medicine-nutrition at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "People still are confused about the difference between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol, and we're going to have to walk them through some of that."

Van Horn was among a group of prior advisory panel members who spoke with journalists about the report.
The last time the dietary guidelines were released, in 2010, the U.S. government recommended that Americans limit their cholesterol to 300 mg a day. A single egg contains 212 mg, 3 1/2 ounces of shrimp contain 194 mg and an ounce of cheddar cheese has 30 mg.

Why the New Guidelines

Congress has mandated that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans be revised every five years in light of new scientific evidence. The purpose is to promote healthy eating and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will consider the advisory panel's recommendations and jointly release the 2015 guidelines later this year.

"About half of all American adults — 117 million individuals — have one or more preventable chronic diseases that relate to poor quality dietary patterns and physical inactivity, including cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and diet-related cancers," the panel wrote. "These devastating health problems… call for bold action and sound, innovative solutions."


Some of the recommendations will sound familiar to Americans. A healthy diet contains more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or nonfat dairy, seafood, legumes and nuts than the average person consumes. It features less red and processed meat, the panel said, and is low in sugar-sweetened foods and refined grains.

Sour View of Sugar Guidelines

Another scientist who spoke with reporters faulted the panel for emphasizing the reduction of added sugars in the diet while suggesting that there may be safety concerns with sugar substitutes such as aspartame.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," said Roger Clemens, an adjunct professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Southern California. "The data are quite clear that these ingredients are quite safe."
On a positive note, the panel wrote that it was not necessary to eliminate entire food groups or follow a single dietary pattern to be healthy.
"Rather, individuals can combine foods in a variety of flexible ways to achieve healthy dietary patterns, and these strategies should be tailored to meet the individual's health needs, dietary preferences and cultural traditions," it said.

Emily Gurnon
Emily Gurnon is the former Senior Content Editor covering health and caregiving for Next Avenue. Her stories include a series of articles on guardianship abuse that was funded by the Journalists in Aging Fellows Program. She previously spent 20 years as an award-winning newspaper reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area and St. Paul. Reach her through her website. Read More
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