I've been tracking my food, and I'm going over my daily cholesterol goals. Should I be concerned?
Is one day of high-cholesterol eating going to hurt your health? Great question!
Dietary cholesterol usually gets a bad rap, but did you know that your body actually needs cholesterol? That's because cholesterol is a building block of body cells and hormones. It makes up 50% of your nervous system and is necessary for metabolism, too. In moderate amounts, it is essential to good health. But like many things in life, too much of a good thing can lead to problems.
The cholesterol you eat comes from certain foods and is tallied on your Nutrition Tracker when you track your foods for the day. Cholesterol comes only from foods of animal origin (meat, seafood, eggs, dairy products, and poultry). It is NOT found in foods of plant origin (grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, soy foods, nuts, seeds, etc.). Some of the cholesterol you consume will be utilized by the body for the functions listed above. But if you eat too much cholesterol and your body can't use it, it can be stored by the body, running through the bloodstream and depositing on arteries, which can lead to high cholesterol and heart disease. So when you get your cholesterol tested at the doctor and your blood (serum) cholesterol is low, healthy or high; the cholesterol they are testing is the cholesterol in your bloodstream.
To prevent health problems like high cholesterol and heart disease, it's recommended that adults consume no more than 300 mg of cholesterol each day. If a person already has high cholesterol, heart disease, or related risk factors, he or she should eat even less: no more than 200 mg per day.
But is one day of high-cholesterol foods going to push you over the edge and cause heart disease? Probably not. Simply eating 300 mg of cholesterol one day doesn't mean that every milligram of cholesterol you consume is going to be deposited in your arteries. Like most dietary requirements, what really matters is what you do consistently—and that you're balancing your intake of all nutrients over the course of several days. One day of high-cholesterol foods won't make or break your health if you're eating low or moderate amounts of cholesterol on the other days of the week.
It's also important to note that simply eating food high in cholesterol doesn't necessarily cause high blood cholesterol levels. Many factors are related to high cholesterol. In fact, a high FAT intake—especially if it includes heart-unhealthy fats like trans fats or too much saturated fat—is more closely linked with high blood cholesterol levels than a high cholesterol diet is.
What about high cholesterol foods like eggs? If you generally choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products and lean cuts of meat, you probably won't have much trouble staying within your daily cholesterol guidelines. But certain high cholesterol foods can put you over your limit. A couple examples are eggs and shrimp.
In a 2007 study published in the journal Medical Science Monitor, no significant difference in cardiovascular diseases (like stroke and heart attack) were observed between people who consumed more than six eggs per week and those who consumed one or fewer eggs per week. So 4-5 eggs per week should be safe and healthy for most people.
According to Becky Hand, a Licensed and Registered Dietitian for SparkPeople, "One egg daily can easily be a part of a well-balanced, nutritious diet for healthy adults." An important exception is for people with diabetes, who are at an increased risk of coronary artery disease when consuming greater than six eggs per week. If you have a medical condition such as heart disease or diabetes, Hand suggests checking with your physician, dietitian or certified diabetes educator regarding egg consumption and dietary restrictions.
If you prefer to eat eggs as part of your regular diet, then just make sure that you are limiting other sources of dietary cholesterol to help balance things out, suggests Hand. If you subtract the cholesterol of your daily egg(s) from your total cholesterol for the day, are you still within your 200-300 mg guideline? If so, then you're probably doing OK. If not, bring your cholesterol numbers back in line by switching to egg whites or egg substitutes on occasion. Also remember to watch your intake of other high-cholesterol foods like high-fat meat and full-fat dairy products—both of which are high in cholesterol, fat and saturated fat (important cholesterol risk factors).
Written by Nicole Nichols, Health Educator. Reviewed and approved by Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian.
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