Eggs and shellfish are among the many items that may be back on the menu for Americans concerned about their intake of dietary cholesterol. Revised recommendations by a panel of experts at USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services are set to appear in “2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” a collaborative effort issued by both agencies every five years. This particular report marks a dramatic shift in long held beliefs about the dangers of dietary cholesterol, often cited as a contributing factor in elevated cholesterol levels, which play a major role in the development of heart disease. The report also revises recommendations on caffeine intake - deemed less dangerous than previously believed - and continues to emphasize the importance of maintaining a diet high in plant-based ingredients like fresh fruit and vegetables.
Of course, understanding what this means in practical terms can get a little more complicated. While previous recommendations regarding cholesterol placed an upper limit for consumption at no more than 300 milligrams daily, experts now believe that placing a restriction on dietary cholesterol intake is no longer necessary for “healthy individuals over the age of 2.” Individuals with existing conditions, including high cholesterol or cardiovascular issues, should continue to follow the guidelines put in place by their physicians in regards to dietary restrictions. While scientists now cast doubt on the correlation between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol, elevated cholesterol levels are still widely influenced by a variety of other nutritional factors, as well as genetics. Saturated fat and sugar in particular remain high priorities for nutritional experts, who urge Americans to keep their daily consumption to less than 10% of their total caloric intake.
The panel’s overall recommendations continue to place great emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes as ideal sources of nutrition for most Americans. Wild-caught or farm raised seafood, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, are also acceptable additions to a balanced diet, although experts continue to urge vigilance when it comes to common pollutants like mercury. In fact, environmental concerns play a surprising role in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, with experts urging Americans for the first time to consider sustainability when contemplating food selections. Issues of sustainability have risen to prominence in recent years, as many Americans begin to focus on the sources and practices involved in producing ingredients that end up in our supermarkets and restaurants, and ultimately on our plates. While the long-term impacts of the updated Dietary Guidelines have yet to emerge, in the meantime, Americans can rest assured that the omelette on their plate at breakfast won’t be doing any lasting damage to their heart. The egg is actually a nutritional powerhouse: at only 75 calories, one egg contains 7 grams of protein and is a healthy source of iron and other nutrients, making it a great substitute for sugary breakfast cereals or pastries.