Advisory group set to remove cholesterol warnings


If there’s one constant when it comes to dietary recommendations it’s that they change frequently. So it goes with the admonitions against cholesterol, which have been part of the US dietary guidelines since the 1960s. But a more nuanced understanding of the role of dietary cholesterol has called this recommendation into question, and now the United States’ leading nutrition advisory panel is set to remove the warnings against cholesterol consumption.

The case against cholesterol began in the early 1900s, when researchers noted a correlation between cholesterol and heart disease. Warnings about the potential dangers of a diet high in cholesterol followed and in 1961 “the American Heart Association recommended that people reduce cholesterol consumption and eventually set a limit of 300 milligrams a day.”

More recent research, however, shows that the link between cholesterol and heart disease is very complex. Scientists learned that “the body creates cholesterol in amounts much larger than their diet provides, that the body regulates how much is in the blood and that there is both “good” and “bad” cholesterol.” 

Some people see this reversal as a sign that more money needs to be allocated to researching nutrition science. They feel the science isn’t settled and removing the warning is premature. Others, however, view it more as standard scientific progress. “These reversals in the field do make us wonder and scratch our heads,” said David Allison, a public health professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “But in science, change is normal and expected.” As our understanding of physics shifted from Ptolemy to Newton to Einstein, Allison said, “the reaction was not to say, ‘Oh my gosh, something is wrong with physics!’ We say, ‘Oh my gosh, isn’t this cool?'”

The recommendations bring the US in line with other countries that don’t single out cholesterol in their dietary guidelines. It might bring solace to the US egg industry, too. After reaching a peak just after World War II, American egg consumption plummeted by nearly 50%, and Americans now eat fewer eggs than at almost any other time in the last century.

Photo of Shakshuka from David Lebovitz

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