Cholesterol in diet advice overturned in U.S.

The advice to avoid cholesterol from foods like eggs has been cut out of new dietary guidelines.

Why cholesterol 'is not a nutrient of concern'

Cholesterol turnabout

7 years ago
Duration 2:46
Warnings to avoid cholesterol in food cut from U.S. dietary advice

The advice to avoid cholesterol from foods like eggs has been cut out of new dietary guidelines.

The U.S. secretaries of health and agriculture released the new guidelines Thursday to reduce obesity and prevent diseases like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

People are encouraged to follow healthy eating patterns with nutritious foods and limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats as well as to limit sodium.

Shrimp and egg yolks are two foods high in dietary cholesterol but not saturated fats. (Larry Crowe/Associated Press)

In a departure from the 2010 guidelines, the advice to limit cholesterol in the diet to 300 milligrams a day is overturned.

"Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption," the guideline now reads.

After more than 50 years of warnings to cut dietary cholesterol, the panel agreed with the American Heart Association's 2013 report that "available evidence shows no appreciable relationship" between eating cholesterol and blood levels of cholesterol. 

Cholesterol is an essential part of our cell membranes and hormones. If it's not in our diet then our liver makes it, said Prof. Christopher Gardner of the Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, Calif.

Gardner's own research used to focus on using different foods to lower blood levels of cholesterol. Instead of emphasizing nutrients, he now looks at whole foods. He acknowledges the U.S. egg industry may have been pushing to remove the cholesterol limit.

"There have been studies over time adding up to this and now they got to be enough that they decided to remove it. It's certainly not a conspiracy theory, it's not a plot. It's just scientists and this process moving more slowly than it should," Gardner said.

Gardner speculates part of the reason it took so long for the changes to unfold is how intertwined saturated fat and cholesterol are in our diets. 

Canadian diet guidelines also recommend avoiding saturated fat.

University of Colorado medicine professor Robert Eckel agrees focusing on reducing saturated fats and removing trans fat from the diet is a better approach.

"The current evidence isn't sufficient to claim dietary cholesterol as harmful," Eckel said.

Foods that have high levels of dietary cholesterol include egg yolks, organ meats, shrimp, squid and fatty meats, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. 

With files from CBC's Kelly Crowe