What do adults in Canada, The United States, Australia and Ireland have in common? Other than living in a country where English is one of the primary languages, they all live in a country where the leading cause of death is Cardiovascular Disease (CVD). Each of these countries also has a national foundation or association dedicated to increasing CVD awareness. However each organization provides slightly different recommendations for how to decrease one’s risk for developing cardiovascular disease, but one common theme is the importance of lowering LDL, or “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood. In addition to lifestyle modifications that the organizations promote as strategies to lower LDL cholesterol levels (such as abstaining from smoking cigarettes and engaging in regular physical activity), they also all list several nutrition recommendations for promoting heart health.
As one might expect, all of the organizations encourage consuming a plentiful variety of fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Additionally, they all recommend decreasing overall dietary fat intake, with specific attention to limiting less healthy saturated and trans fats and instead focusing on healthy unsaturated fat sources. While some authorities provide recommended daily limits, dietary cholesterol does not appear to be as much of a focus in some cases.
The Irish Heart Foundation lists several nutrition recommendations in their tips “for healthy cholesterol and a happy heart,” but dietary cholesterol intake isn’t mentioned in these guidelines. The organization even goes as far to explain that “the level of cholesterol in your blood is affected by the amount of saturated fats you eat every day,” and specify that food containing dietary cholesterol “does not greatly affect the amount of cholesterol in your blood.”
The Australian Heart Foundation states that dietary cholesterol “has only a small effect on your LDL cholesterol,” highlighting saturated and trans fats as major culprits for increasing LDL cholesterol and subsequent plaque formation. Their guidelines recommend limiting “cholesterol-rich” food items “if advised to do so,” while across-the-board recommendations are made for lowering saturated fat intake.
The Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation’s list of strategies for lowering LDL cholesterol levels does not include limiting dietary cholesterol intake, though RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) levels for cholesterol are in place in Canada, for those with and without heart disease. The Foundation does note that “dietary cholesterol only has an effect in some people” in terms of impact on blood cholesterol levels. The Foundation specifically states that “from a nutrition perspective, the best way to control blood cholesterol is to eat a healthy diet that is lower in fat, especially saturated and trans fat.”
The Bottom Line:
Familiarize yourself with the guidelines of several authorities on heart health to learn more about recommendations and information surrounding dietary cholesterol intake. As a health professional, be sure to focus on all of the strategies for promoting heart health, including:
- Maintaining a healthy body weight/BMI (Body Mass Index)
- Engaging in regular physical activity
- Abstaining from smoking cigarettes
- Following other dietary recommendations or heart health (including a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in the diet while limiting fat, particularly saturated and trans fat, and sodium in the diet)
- Having regular blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar (if you’re at risk for diabetes) checks
- Engaging in strategies to reduce stress
Lastly, it’s important to encourage patients to speak with their doctor to clarify any questions relating to heart health and cholesterol levels in addition to working with a registered dietitian to help plan a heart healthy diet.