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Proposed Dietary Guidelines Not a Green Light to Eat What You Want

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Healthy human bodies control the amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream, and can detect and adjust its natural cholesterol production if dietary cholesterol (cholesterol consumed in foods) increases or decreases, Diekman said.

“If we’ve consumed more cholesterol than we need, we just make less,” Diekman said. “We have a self-regulating mechanism for cholesterol.”


The body also can excrete unneeded dietary cholesterol, particularly if the person is eating a fiber-rich diet, said Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Fiber — found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, oatmeal and whole grains — binds to dietary cholesterol in the digestive tract and keeps it from being absorbed into the bloodstream.

But when folks eat saturated fats, they do an end-run around the body’s self-regulating system for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, the nutritionists said.

During digestion, saturated fats are absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to the liver, where they are converted into “bad” LDL cholesterol, said Sonya Angelone, a registered dietitian nutritionist in San Francisco and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Taking in too much saturated fat, therefore, can lead to overproduction of LDL cholesterol, and unhealthy levels of blood cholesterol. “The more fat you have available to make cholesterol, you’re going to make more cholesterol than you need,” Sandon said.

Saturated fats are found primarily in animal-based foods like meat, poultry, swine and dairy products. They are solid at room temperature — for example, the fat around the edge of a steak, a stick of butter, or a can of lard.

High levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol in a person’s blood have long been linked to the formation of arterial plaques that can impede the flow of blood and contribute to heart attacks or strokes, according to the American Heart Association.

The reported USDA action reflects a continuing evolution of thought regarding the role of fats in a heart-healthy diet, said Dr. Steve Nissen, a renowned cardiologist and chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.

For his part, Nissen recommends to his heart patients the only diet that has been tested using a randomized clinical trial — the Mediterranean diet.

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