This year, a half-decade of bad dietary advice may finally be reversed. According to the Washington Post, the U.S.’s top nutritional advisory panel is poised to drop the recommendation that you limit cholesterol in your diet. And it’s about time.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee – who advised us to eat 6-11 servings of breads, cereals, rice, and pasta back in the 90s – formulates and publishes a new set of “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” every five years. A draft of the upcoming 2015 edition states that “cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption,” and an insider claims that this statement will remain when the final report is published.
After decades of calling dietary fat and cholesterol a recipe for heart disease, medicine is finally beginning to admit what many of us suspected all along – there was never a scientific basis for restricting fat and cholesterol in the first place.
Your body needs cholesterol
Cholesterol is present in every cell of your body. It’s one of the components of cell membranes and you need it to produce sex and stress hormones, bile acids (which help you digest fat) and even vitamin D. You need it to form memories, as extremely low cholesterol levels have even been linked to Alzheimer’s.
In fact, about 75% of your cholesterol is produced by your own body, while only about 25% comes from your diet. Cholesterol is produced in the liver and, if you do get more from dietary sources, your liver simply produces less. If, on the other hand, you don’t get enough from your diet, then your liver ramps up production to meet the body’s demand.
Cholesterol and cardiovascular disease – cause or symptom?
For decades, cholesterol buildup in the arteries was blamed as the major culprit in heart disease, but research now suggests that the reality may be quite different. Study after study has found no correlation between blood cholesterol levels and “bad” dietary choices such as eating red meat, animal fat and butter. As Time Magazine reported:
“In the latest review of studies that investigated the link between dietary fat and causes of death, researchers say the guidelines got it all wrong. In fact, recommendations to reduce the amount of fat we eat every day should never have been made.”
Instead, some now suggest that high cholesterol levels may be a symptom of chronic inflammation, which is already implicated in a range of diseases such as diabetes.
Cutting the fat made us… fat
The recommendation to lower cholesterol and cut the fat out of our diets led to an explosion of “low-fat” processed foods. Since fat is a major component in flavor, when manufacturers reduced the fat in their products they had to add something else to give them some taste. In most cases, that something was high fructose corn syrup. Today nearly every processed food on the market, from bread to salad dressing, is loaded with HFCS. There’s little doubt that this has played a major role in the skyrocketing rates of obesity we now see in our country.
Cutting the fat, however, didn’t cut our cholesterol levels. Or our rates of heart disease.
Cholesterol-lowering drugs may make you diabetic
Today, one person in four age 45 or over is taking a statin to lower their cholesterol. That’s an incredible 32 million people nationwide and recent guidelines aim to add another 13 million. Health officials now recommend that everyone over age 20 have their cholesterol levels checked at least every 5 years, and kids as young as 8 are being put on statins.
Considering the long list of side effects that statins have, these are frightening numbers. A recent study by the VA showing that people taking statins are 87% more likely to develop diabetes should really give you pause when it comes to the cholesterol question.
The upcoming version of the Dietary Guidelines is a step in the right direction. The scientific consensus is that there’s little evidence that blood cholesterol levels affect the likelihood of heart disease and that the original guidelines were misguided.
It’s hoped that the new guidelines will help us get our eating habits back into a healthier pattern – one that embraces the healthy fat and gets us off the drugs.