Old guideline: Restrict cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams daily.
2015 guideline: No limit is included, but "this change does not suggest that dietary cholesterol is no longer important to consider when building healthy eating patterns. ... Individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible."
Cholesterol warnings have been around in the United States since at least 1961 and have helped shift eating habits from foods like eggs. But scientific thinking on the issue has evolved.
Nutritionists now believe that foods high in cholesterol may not significantly affect cholesterol levels or increase the risk of heart disease in healthy adults. But individuals with health issues such as diabetes should continue to avoid cholesterol-rich foods.
The government's new stance on dietary cholesterol is in line with that of other nations, which do not single out cholesterol as an issue. Yet it should not be confused with officials' continued warning about high levels of "bad" cholesterol in the blood -- something that has been clearly linked to heart disease.
Experts emphasize that while the hard limit on cholesterol consumption was removed, that doesn't mean a green light to eat cholesterol-laden foods with abandon.
"Cautions about cholesterol intake are addressed in the text of the [guideline] report, including a clear statement that people do not need to obtain cholesterol through food and should limit their intake of cholesterol and saturated fat as much as possible through healthy eating patterns," American College of Cardiology President Kim Allan Williams said.
Williams explained that Americans can meet these recommendations by eating more unprocessed foods -- especially fruits, vegetables and whole grains -- and by replacing unwanted sugar and fat with plant-based foods, including whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
The federal government's influential Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were released Thursday, are updated every five years, and the debate over saturated fats, red meat, caffeine and salt was especially intense this time around.
The guidelines are the basis of everything from school lunch programs to the diets promoted in bestselling books, but in recent years some scientists have begun to question the one-size-fits-all approach. A growing body of research supports the theory that a person's genetic makeup or microbiome (the organisms that live on or inside of you and help to make you who you are) plays a key role in how food affects the body -- and that the impact can be different from one individual to another. That work supports a more personalized approach to diet, which some researchers argue have argued is the future of nutrition science.
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