For quite some time, people have sworn by choosing egg whites over whole eggs to avoid eating too much cholesterol, and for seemingly good reason. High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease, which is why the Dietary Guidelines for Americans has always recommended that people eat no more than 300 mg of cholesterol per day to stay healthy. That means, avoiding or eliminating cholesterol containing foods such as eggs, shrimp and lobster.
However, our knowledge of cholesterol’s role in the body has evolved, and experts now believe that cholesterol may no longer be a “nutrient of concern”. It is now understood that our body produces both good and bad cholesterol, and that eating foods high in saturated fats, such as fatty meats, whole milk and butter, is the real culprit for high blood cholesterol levels. The liver produces HDL (“good”) cholesterol, which is made of mostly proteins and works to eliminate LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which is made up of mostly fats. What happens is, the more saturated fat you eat, the more LDL your liver will produce, raising your blood cholesterol levels.
This shift in thinking about dietary cholesterol’s role in increasing the risk of heart disease has caused the government to suggest dropping its cholesterol warning in the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Though the influence of saturated fat on blood cholesterol levels has become clear, cholesterol production in the body is very complex as the body produces cholesterol in much larger amounts than we take in. The self-regulation of blood cholesterol in our bodies leads experts to believe that there is a strong genetic component as to why certain people are more predisposed than others. Research has shown that though dietary cholesterol may not raise a healthy person’s risk for heart disease, those who are diabetic or who have chronically high cholesterol levels are more sensitive to the influence of cholesterol in foods. However, what explains this difference is still unclear.
There is no better time than during American Heart Month to share this exciting new information with the public. Though scientists and nutrition experts are still trying to wrap their heads around the complexity of this particular nutrient, you can all rest assure that eating a moderate amount of whole eggs, shrimp and lobster will not single handedly increase your risk of heart disease. Yolk on!