Dietary Cholesterol

Dietary cholesterol is a fatlike substance found only in animal foods such as organ meats, egg yolks, fish and shellfish, beef and poultry, and dairy products. Plant foods do not naturally contain cholesterol.

You might be surprised to learn that although most foods that are high in cholesterol are also high in total fat and saturated fat, some low-fat foods such as shrimp and squid are also high in cholesterol; other shellfish contain lower amounts of cholesterol. Organ meats contain extremely high levels of cholesterol – 3 ounces of beef brain, for example, contains a whopping 1,696 mg cholesterol!

Although it might have less of an impact than high intakes of saturated and trans fats, too much dietary cholesterol can increase serum or blood cholesterol levels. When too much cholesterol builds up in blood vessel walls, it’s hard for blood to travel through the body and can cause a heart attack or stroke. When blood vessels that lead to the heat or brain become blocked, a heart attack or stroke can occur.

Some people in particular experience wide swings in their blood cholesterol levels in response to consuming varying amounts of dietary cholesterol. Although there’s not test to identify who is sensitive to dietary cholesterol, it’s prudent for all of us to limit or reduce our intake of dietary cholesterol.

Serum or blood cholesterol is cholesterol that circulates in the blood stream. Although most is made by the liver, some is obtained from the diet. Two main types of serum cholesterol include LDL (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, also known as “bad” cholesterol) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, also known as “good” cholesterol).

Heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction (MI), occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked.

Stroke, also known as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked; this causes brain cells to die because they don’t’ get enough oxygen.

Daily Fat and Cholesterol Recommendations

The Institute of Medicine’s dietary reference intakes (DRIs) recommend acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges (AMDRs) for fat for children and adults. These ranges of daily fat intake (expressed as a percentage of total calorie intake) that provide enough fat to meet individual needs while reducing the risk of chronic disease:

• Children from 1 to 3 years old – 30-40 percent of total calorie intake from fat
• Children from 4 to 18 years old – 25-35 percent of total calorie intake from fat
• Adults from 19 to 70 years and above – 20-35 percent of total calorie intake from fat

The DRIs also recommend specific amounts of total fat (in grams) infants should consume each day; these estimated needs are based on adequate intakes (AIs), average intakes of dietary fat by most healthy infants:

• Infants 0 to 6 months – 31 grams of fat
• Infants 7 to 12 months – 30 grams of fat

Monounsaturated Fat

Although there are no specific DRIs for monounsaturated fats, the National Cholesterol Education Program Expert Panel on the Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III) recommend up to 20 percent of total daily calorie intake to come from monounsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated Fat

The Institute of Medicine’s DRI recommends a range of intake (expressed as a percentage of total calorie intake) for linoleic acid (an omega-6 PUFA) and alpha linolenic acid (an omega-3 PUFA) for children and adults as follows:

• Linoleic acid (LA) – 5-10 percent of total calories
• Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – 0.6-1.2 percent of total calories

Although there are no specific recommendations for EPA and DHA (the omega-3 fats found in fish), the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends everyone eat at least two fish meals (about 8 ounces cooked) each week, which provides about 500 mg/day EPA and DHA.

Saturated Fat

Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the AHA recommends that Americans should consume less than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fat. The AHA also recommends those with elevated bad LDL cholesterol (> 130 mg/dL) to aim for less than 7 percent of total calories from saturated fat.

Trans Fat

Although the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people limit their intake of trans fats, and the Institute of Medicine’s DRIs recommend that trans fat intake should be as low as possible, the AHA has set a firm guideline for daily intake of trans fats. Based on their recent 2006 Dietary Guidelines, the AHA recommends that less than 1 percent of total calories should come from trans fats. That equals 1-3 grams of trans fat a day. Here are individual recommendations based on yoru daily calorie intake:

• If you consume 1,000-1,200 calories a day, consume no more than 1 gram per day.
• If you consume 1,400 calories a day, consume no more than 1.5 grams per day.
• If you consume 1,600-2,000 calories a day, consume no more than 2 grams per day.
• If you consume 2,200-2,400 calories a day, consume no more than 2.5 grams per day.
• If you consume 2,600 calories a day, consume no more than 3 grams per day.

Dietary Cholesterol

Dietary cholesterol is not something we need to consume; our bodies produce about 1,000 mg each day to meet our daily needs. Despite this, it would be very difficult for all but those who follow a vegan diet to eliminate dietary cholesterol from their diets.

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a cholesterol intake of less than 300 mg per day. Less than 200 mg (or even less) is recommended for those with elevated LDL cholesterol level (> 130 mg/dL) or those diagnosed with heart disease.

A vegan diet is one that excludes all animal-derived foods (including meats, eggs, diary products, and foods made with animal fats).

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