Reality check: How much cholesterol should you really be eating?

New dietary guidelines say cholesterol isn't as bad as initially thought. But how much is too much?.
New dietary guidelines say cholesterol isn't as bad as initially thought. But how much is too much?. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Cholesterol may not have a great reputation, but new U.S. recommendations could help shed its notoriety.

New U.S. dietary guideline committees this past week said cholesterol is now “not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” Your morning cup of coffee got the green light, while cutting back on processed meat and sugar was pushed into the forefront next to promoting fresh fare in consumers’ everyday diet.

Keep in mind, this reference is one in a series of changes yet it garnered a flurry of attention in the media.

READ MORE: Healthful diet report – Here’s what you should be eating

“Back to eggs and bacon? What new cholesterol guidelines mean to you,” one headline read. “Why you shouldn’t worry about the massive amount of cholesterol in eggs,” another said.

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It may seem like U.S. officials are backtracking on their stance on cholesterol, but Global News takes a look at what the tweaks to cholesterol monitoring mean and how much of it Canadians should be eating daily.

What changed in the recommendations?

The report’s decision to label cholesterol as less harmless as initially warned follows medical research that suggests that the amount of cholesterol in our bloodstream is more complicated than once thought.

The authors – out of the U.S. Federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory – says that available evidence “shows no appreciable relationship” between heart disease and how much dietary cholesterol you eat. But it’s still calling for eating less saturated fat. As in previous years, the report advises limiting saturated fats to 10 per cent of total calories.

READ MORE: 6 misconceptions about nutrition and healthy eating

Canadian experts weigh in:

The recommendations tie into each other pretty well, according to registered dietitian Kate Comeau, who is spokeswoman for the Dietitians of Canada.

The panel is urging consumers to eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. If consumers take that advice to heart, they’re naturally going to lower their cholesterol intake, too.

You won’t need to nickel and dime your cholesterol intake – you should be in the clear if you’ve got an overall healthy eating pattern, Comeau says.

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READ MORE: Eating egg yolks almost as harmful as smoking, says Canadian study

“We need cholesterol in our bodies. You’re going to have a small amount [of cholesterol] coming in when you’re eating nourishing foods but you’re getting the other benefits, too,” she explained.

Christine LeGrand, a health policy specialist at the Heart and Stroke Foundation, says the recommendations are shifting concern away from cholesterol to other issues, such as salt, sugar and saturated fat.

“We’re pulling away from the individual pieces of it and reminding Canadians that it’s about a balanced diet. It’s about what’s consumed in a day that’ll impact your health,” she said.

Here’s how much cholesterol you should be eating

The recommended daily intake of dietary cholesterol for the average healthy person is about 300 milligrams per day with less than seven per cent of calories coming from saturated fat, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

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That doesn’t apply to everyone, though. If you’re dealing with heart disease or diabetes, you should be limiting consumption to 200 milligrams of cholesterol per day.

READ MORE: Why high cholesterol even in your 30s is a red flag for heart disease

One large egg has about 186 milligrams of cholesterol – all of which is found in the yolk, the Mayo Clinic says.

Most healthy people can eat up to seven eggs per week without any increase of heart disease risk. Just over three ounces of shrimp is the equivalent of 200 milligrams of cholesterol – the total allowance for Canadians who have heart disease or are diabetic. An eight-ounce steak also clocks in on the upper limit of cholesterol intake for heart disease patients.

So if you’re a healthy eater, you shouldn’t have to worry about your cholesterol intake.

READ MORE: Why you should eat beans, lentils and peas to lower bad cholesterol

The updated recommendations are by no means a free pass to load up on cholesterol though, the experts say.

“[Cholesterol] tends to be wrapped up in food we wouldn’t consider healthy – bacon for breakfast, lobster poutine, dishes we’d consider as on occasion, treat foods,” Comeau says.
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Remember: bacon has cholesterol, but it’s also deep fried, heavily processed and packed with sodium, she warns.

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For now, the report is simply a list of recommendations. The U.S. Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments will comb over the findings before pulling together their final 2015 dietary guidelines at the end of the year.

These are the guidelines that dictate nutritional patterns across the U.S. – from federally subsizied school lunches to nutrition labels.

– With files from The Associated Press

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