After years of avoiding steak, eggs and ice cream as part your quest for maintaining good cholesterol levels, now you are finding yourself ready to indulge. Are the new guidelines too good to be true? Consider these 5 undisputable facts before you add more butter to your bread.

  1. People vary in their sensitivity to dietary cholesterol (cholesterol obtained from your diet).
    Some individuals are ‘over-absorbers’ meaning they absorb more cholesterol from the foods they eat which can increase the amount of cholesterol in their blood. This means that while it may be alright for some people to stop worrying about cholesterol limits, for others it is still important to continue to limit high cholesterol foods. Diagnostic tests can help determine if you are an over-absorber and if you should continue to limit dietary cholesterol.
  2. Many foods high in cholesterol are also high in saturated fat. You will want to continue to limit these foods because there is no doubt saturated fats raise blood cholesterol. Foods rich in saturated fat include fatty cuts of meat, high fat dairy products like cream, ice cream and cheese, butter, bacon and so on.
  3. Saturated fat is the major nutrient of concern when it comes to eating a heart healthy diet. In fact, just last year leading experts on blood cholesterol and diet issued a guideline that was even lower than the previous recommendation. They recommend for anyone who would benefit from lowering their LDL cholesterol, a limit of 5% of calories from saturated fat would be best. This amounts to an approximate target of 10 grams or less of saturated fat per day for women and about 12 grams or less of saturated fat per day for men. To give you an idea of how quickly this adds up, consider that one ounce of cheddar cheese contains 6 grams of saturated fat. One tablespoon of butter has 7 grams of saturated fat.
  4. A couple foods high in cholesterol are not high in saturated fat. Good news! Eggs and shrimp may now be eaten in moderation by most, without too much concern. Of course, you still need to be careful what you eat with the eggs. Adding cheese, sausage, and bacon or eating fried shrimp would not be heart healthy. These foods add saturated fats resulting in a meal that is not so good for your heart.
  5. A healthy eating strategy includes vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes, lean proteins, low fat dairy or dairy alternatives, nuts and seeds. Also included in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines was a recommendation to aim for an overall healthy eating pattern. It’s important to note that high blood cholesterol and heart health in general, could be impacted by the foods you ARE NOT eating. Fiber is a nutrient that is lacking in the diet of most Americans. It plays a key role in blocking the absorption of dietary cholesterol. Eating more high fiber foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds leaves less room for fatty foods.

So, my advice to you is to approach news about diet and foods, with a skeptical eye. And, keep eating the foods you love that love you back by giving you good health and good cholesterol levels!

For more information about the other changes in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines and how the Boston Heart Lifestyle Program fits with the guidelines read this letter from the Boston Heart clinical staff.