The leading nutrition advisory panel may soon revise its guidelines about cholesterol. For decades we’ve been cautioned against eating too many foods high in cholesterol such as eggs and seafood, but the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) wants to modify their warning to focus on what they believe is the bigger threat: eating too many unhealthy fats—especially trans fats.
Under the new guidelines, cholesterol will no longer be considered a nutrient of concern—meaning, in this case, something to focus on reducing instead of something to increase in your diet. To help clear things up a bit and explain why the DGAC may be updating their previous recommendations, here are a few things you need to know about cholesterol:
Cholesterol: Fact vs. Fiction
Myth: Cholesterol is bad for you.
Fact: We need cholesterol. It is found in every cell in the body. Cholesterol is needed to make a variety of hormones as well as to help manufacture vitamin D, promote digestive health, and repair damage to the body.
Myth: There are two types of cholesterol, good and bad.
Fact: There is only one cholesterol—but two main “vehicles” that carry it throughout the body. They are known as HDL and LDL. Cholesterol is only the passenger.
3 Important Truths about HDL (“Good”) Cholesterol:
- HDL brings cholesterol to the liver for recycling
- HDL scavenges cholesterol from damaged arteries
- High HDL levels reduce heart disease risk
3 Important Truths about LDL (“Bad”) Cholesterol:
- LDL transports cholesterol away from the liver to damaged tissues and cells
- Small LDL particles can deposit in artery walls and accumulate as plaque
- That plaque can then can inflame artery walls, increasing heart disease risk
The overall goal of the new guidelines, due out this year, is to encourage people to eat more healthy foods that are rich in nutrients their bodies need. Get a head start on a healthy heart and body by eating plenty of:
- Non-starchy vegetables such as asparagus and cauliflower
- Low-sugar fruits such as avocado, raspberries and grapefruit
- Protein from sources such as tofu, poultry, eggs, fish and yogurt
- Healthy fats
- Nuts and seeds
Fifty is a decade or two away. Why worry about managing your cholesterol now? Because, say scientists at the Duke Clinical Research Institute in North Carolina, the longer you live with high cholesterol—even slightly higher than normal levels—the greater your risk of developing heart disease.
Using health data from the long-term Framingham Heart Study, researchers were able to determine that if you are between the ages of 35 and 55, every decade spent with borderline high cholesterol increases your heart disease risk by up to 40 percent.
Specifically, one to 10 years of elevated cholesterol levels was associated with an 8.1 percent risk, while 11 to 20 years of exposure boosted the risk to 16.5 percent. To put that in perspective, for those individuals who did not show signs of high cholesterol at the beginning of the study, their future risk of heart disease was only 4.4 percent—meaning long-term high cholesterol can nearly quadruple your chances of heart disease.
The study results, published last month in the journal Circulation, are important because they point out that how long a person has high cholesterol is directly related to his or her risk of developing heart disease—highlighting the need for middle-aged adults to pay better attention to their cardiovascular health.
Study author Dr. Ann Marie Navar-Boggan recommends adults in their 30s should consider getting screened at least once for high cholesterol. In addition, she believes a healthy diet and lifestyle should be a priority early on.