Nutrition 101: A Response to New Cholesterol Guidelines

According to the recently released document from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee cholesterol is no longer considered to be a “nutrient of concern.” This change is so exciting because cholesterol plays such an important role in our bodies (listed below), and hopefully this change will free people to include more cholesterol in their diets. A change like this can have a variety of reactions, however, so below I have some thoughts on how best to respond to this change. 

How NOT TO respond to this change:

Time-Magazine-Cholesterol.jpg

You do NOT need to become a nutrition agnostic. Yes, there are conflicting views, and yes, as more research is done, there will always be changes. But when you find two conflicting pieces of nutrition advice, your response does not need to be to throw your hands up and despair of knowing truth.  Even nutrition prescriptions that I completely disagree with typically have some element of truth in them if you ask the right questions.

So when you see two opposing prescriptions, ask:

·      What is the rationale and/or science behind each piece of advice?

·      Has there been a new study or a fuller understanding of old data?

·      Are the different viewpoints addressing different circumstances?

·      Is either or both viewpoints an oversimplification of more specific information?

For example, cholesterol does in fact have a role in heart disease. You still don’t want to have oxidized, cholesterol-carrying LDL particles hanging out in your blood. This statement is true.  However, the following statements are also true:

·      Cholesterol is a building block for many things in your body, but particularly your brain.

·      Cholesterol allows for us to form connections between neurons, so we can remember things.

·      Cholesterol is necessary to metabolize all fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K)

·      Cholesterol is necessary for producing many of our hormones, which in turn regulate inflammation, immune function and metabolism.

·      Cholesterol deficiency results in infertility and problems with nutrient absorption

You don’t have to despair, you just have to dig a little deeper.

How TO respond to this change:

·      If you don’t already, happily enjoy eggs, red meat, seafood and chicken knowing that you are providing your body with an essential building block.

·      Although you do not have to adopt a super low carb lifestyle, if you are worried about heart disease, reduce carbohydrates in order to lower small, dense LDL in your body.

·      Ask more questions about the dietary advice that you trust to make sure you do not have an oversimplified or incorrect understanding of what makes you healthy.

If there’s someone out there who is dying to geek out over cholesterol research, Chris Masterjohn has done EXTENSIVE work in this field.

If you want a bit more information, but you really just want someone to summarize it for you, you may want to start with Chris Kresser’s post here.