By Dr. Mercola
Many Americans are still under the false impression that eating cholesterol-rich foods will cause your cholesterol levels to skyrocket and increase your risk of heart disease.
Many also avoid healthy animal foods like butter, grass-fed beef, and eggs because the cholesterol they contain has been vilified by conventional nutritionists working off of public-health agency guidelines.
As recently as 2010, US dietary guidelines described cholesterol-rich foods as "foods and food components to reduce."1 They advised people to eat less than 300 milligrams (mg) per day, despite mounting evidence that dietary cholesterol has very little to do with cholesterol levels in your body.
Now, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) has done a complete about-face. They are finally acknowledging what the science shows, which is that "cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption."2
This latter statement, which came from a DGAC meeting, is expected to change the books, so to speak, when it comes to dietary cholesterol recommendations in the soon-to-be-released 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The 2015 guidelines have not yet been finalized, but, according to a report in the Washington Post, "a person with direct knowledge of the proceedings said the cholesterol finding would make it to the group's final report, which is due within weeks."3
No More Limits on Dietary Cholesterol
DGAC has recommended limits on dietary cholesterol be removed from the upcoming 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This is a reversal of the cholesterol limitations that have been widely circulated since the 1960s.
Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Dr. Steven Nissen told USA Today: "It's the right decision. We got the dietary guidelines wrong. They've been wrong for decades."4
Indeed, Dr. Nissen estimates that only 20 percent of your blood cholesterol levels come from your diet. The rest of the cholesterol in your body is produced by your liver, which it makes because your body needs cholesterol.
One survey of South Carolina adults found no correlation of blood cholesterol levels with "bad" dietary habits, such as consumption of red meat, animal fats, butter, eggs, whole milk, bacon, sausage, and cheese.5
Consumption of more than six eggs per week also does not increase your risk of stroke and ischemic stroke,6 while eating two eggs a day does not adversely affect endothelial function (an aggregate measure of cardiac risk) in healthy adults.
This supports the view that dietary cholesterol may be far less detrimental to cardiovascular health than previously thought.7 According to Chris Masterjohn, who received his PhD in nutritional sciences from the University of Connecticut:8
"Since we cannot possibly eat enough cholesterol to use for our bodies' daily functions, our bodies make their own. When we eat more foods rich in this compound, our bodies make less. If we deprive ourselves of foods high in cholesterol -- such as eggs, butter, and liver — our body revs up its cholesterol synthesis.
The end result is that, for most of us, eating foods high in cholesterol has very little impact on our blood cholesterol levels. In seventy percent of the population, foods rich in cholesterol such as eggs cause only a subtle increase in cholesterol levels or none at all. In the other thirty percent, these foods do cause a rise in blood cholesterol levels.
Despite this, research has never established any clear relationship between the consumption of dietary cholesterol and the risk for heart disease… Raising cholesterol levels is not necessarily a bad thing either."
You Might Be Getting Too Little Cholesterol in Your Diet
Oxidized cholesterol is formed when polyunsaturated vegetable oils (such as soybean, corn, and sunflower oils) are heated. A primary source is fried foods. This oxidized cholesterol (not dietary cholesterol in and of itself) causes increased thromboxane formation—a factor that clots your blood. Two of Dr. Fred Kummerow's papers pertain to how these oils harden your arteries and play an important role in the development of atheorosclerosis. Dr. Kummerow has studied heart disease for more than 60 years. As noted by the New York Times,15 these oils are precisely the types of fats that Americans have been, and still are, urged to consume in lieu of saturated fats like butter.
"The problem, [Dr. Kummerow] says, is not LDL, the 'bad cholesterol' widely considered to be the major cause of heart disease. What matters is whether the cholesterol and fat residing in those LDL particles have been oxidized... 'Cholesterol has nothing to do with heart disease, except if it's oxidized,' Dr. Kummerow said... [He] contends that the high temperatures used in commercial frying cause inherently unstable polyunsaturated oils to oxidize, and that these oxidized fatty acids become a destructive part of LDL particles. Even when not oxidized by frying, soybean and corn oils can oxidize inside the body."
So while naturally cholesterol-rich foods are good for you, if those foods are fried or heated to high temperatures, the cholesterol may become oxidized… and this form of cholesterol should be avoided. There is some compelling evidence to suggest that heated fats may worsen insulin resistance more than sugar and may be more dangerous.
How to Optimize Your Cholesterol Levels
The goal of the guidelines below is not to lower your cholesterol as low as it can go, but rather to optimize your levels so they're working in the proper balance with your body. Again, the majority of your cholesterol is produced by your liver, which is influenced by your insulin levels. Therefore, if you optimize your insulin level, you will tend to automatically optimize your cholesterol. This is why my primary recommendations for safely regulating your cholesterol have to do with modifying your diet and lifestyle as follows (what you won't find on this list is taking cholesterol-lowering medication or eating a low-cholesterol diet):
- Reduce, with the plan of eliminating, grains and sugars in your diet. It is vitally important to eliminate gluten-containing grains and dangerous sugars especially fructose.
- Consume a good portion of your food raw.
- Make sure you are getting plenty of high-quality, animal-based omega 3 fats, such as krill oil. Research suggests that as little as 500 mg of krill per day may improve your total cholesterol and triglycerides and will likely increase your HDL cholesterol.
- Replace harmful vegetable oils and synthetic trans fats with healthy fats, such as olive oil, butter, and coconut oil (remember olive oil should be used cold only, use coconut oil for cooking and baking).
- Include fermented foods in your daily diet. This will not only optimize your intestinal microflora, which will boost your overall immunity, it will also introduce beneficial bacteria into your mouth. Poor oral health is another powerful indicator of increased heart disease risk.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels, ideally through appropriate sun exposure as this will allow your body to also create vitamin D sulfate—another factor that may play a crucial role in preventing the formation of arterial plaque.
- Exercise regularly. Make sure you incorporate high-intensity interval exercises, which also optimize your human growth hormone (HGH) production.
- Avoid smoking or drinking alcohol excessively.
- Be sure to get plenty of high-quality, restorative sleep.