The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee may be opening Pandora's box by recommending that the government drop its decades-old warning against high cholesterol foods. While I agree that whole eggs and low-fat dairy, easily fit into a heart-healthy diet, foods high in saturated fat (and cholesterol) like bacon, sausage, burgers and many other processed foods do not fit the bill when it comes to health and wellness - unless, Americans throw up their hands and reach for statins as an easy way out.
The problem is that the average person doesn't understand how to differentiate between foods high in cholesterol and foods high in saturated fat. And rightfully so - it's confusing! Many foods that are high in cholesterol are also high in saturated fat. For example, most cuts of beef, the skin on poultry and full-fat dairy are high in both cholesterol and saturated fat. However, fat-free milk has significantly less cholesterol than whole milk and no saturated fat. Shellfish like squid (calamari) and shrimp are high in cholesterol yet low in saturated fat. Many fried foods and baked goods contain high levels of saturated fats. Some plant-based oils, such as hydrogenated vegetable oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil, also contain primarily saturated fats, but do not contain cholesterol.
Since animals produce cholesterol, it is only found in animal-based foods such as meat, eggs, poultry and full-fat dairy products. But the dietary culprit linked to heart disease is not the cholesterol; it's the saturated fat content of many of these animal-based foods. A diet high in saturated fat and trans fat (like margarine) triggers the liver to produce more cholesterol. If too much cholesterol is deposited in your arteries, plaque forms, which makes it difficult for your heart to circulate blood. When plaque breaks open, a blood clot can form, which may result in a blocked artery. If the clot blocks an artery that feeds the brain, it causes a stroke. If the clot blocks an artery that feeds the heart, it causes a heart attack.
Keep in mind that whether you eat it or not, cholesterol is made by the body and used to produce hormones, vitamin D, and the bile acids that help you digest fat. However, the body only needs a limited amount and when there's too much, health problems, such as heart disease, may develop.
The bottom line is that Americans consume too many processed foods that are high in saturated fat, trans fats, salt and sugar. The average American consumes more than 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day, while the upper recommended limit is 2,400 mg. There is strong evidence that high sodium intake leads to high blood pressure. Sugar is empty calories and contributes to obesity. And Americans definitely need to up the ante when it comes to lifestyle activity---we rely on our cars way too much!
The committee also advises that coffee (three to five cups a day) does not lead to increased long-term health risks in healthy individuals. Oh my - if I drank that much coffee, I would never sleep! I don't agree with giving a green light to consuming caffeine (a drug) - it is not a good health recommendation.
If the government accepts these dietary recommendations, will this give Americans a false freedom to continue to indulge in the big American breakfast of eggs fried in butter with bacon and sausage - and wash it all down with a few cups of coffee?
I hope not!
To learn how to include eggs, lean meat and dairy into a heart-healthy diet, pick up a copy of my book: Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy.