In the 1970s and 80s, butter became public enemy number one, and millions of Americans gave up eggs, cheese, cream, whole milk, and steak—all in the name of heart health. Medical organizations and government health officials have been urging us to cut fat and cholesterol for nearly four decades.
Now, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee—the group that provides the scientific basis for the “Dietary Guidelines”—is changing its mind on cholesterol. New scientific studies have found that cholesterol consumed in food plays a relatively insignificant role in determining blood levels of cholesterol.
“It’s the right decision,” Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the famed Cleveland Clinic, told USA Today. “We got the dietary guidelines wrong. They’ve been wrong for decades.”
Nissen noted that only 20% of a person’s blood cholesterol (the levels measured with standard cholesterol tests) comes from diet. The rest comes from genes.
The Dietary Guidelines, a federal publication, has broad effects on the American diet, helping to determine the content of school lunches, affecting how food manufacturers advertise their goods, and serving as the foundation for diet advice.
“We told people not to eat eggs. It was never based on good science,” Nissen said.
Advice to avoid foods high in fat and cholesterol led many Americans to switch to foods high in sugar and carbohydrates, which often had more calories. “We got fatter and fatter,” Nissen says. “We got more and more diabetes.”