Don’t Blame the Cholesterol

The following comes from Dr. McDougall’s email newsletter update in response to the Washington Post article, US government is poised to withdraw longstanding warnings about cholesterol. I’d like to share this as cholesterol is neither the only problem with animal products nor the only cause of heart disease. Examples of this are provided below.

Significant amounts of cholesterol are found only in animal foods. Plants (starches, vegetables, and fruits) are “cholesterol-free” foods.

The problem is “the animal foods” – blaming individual components (i.e. cholesterol) is a risky business:

In common, animal foods (meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and seafood) are:

  1. High in fat and/or high in protein
  2. Contain no dietary fiber
  3. Contain no energy giving carbohydrate (mammal milk is the exception)
  4. High in environmental contaminants (POP)
  5. Transmitters of microbes (zoonosis) – bacteria, viruses, parasites, prions
  6. Expensive (money) sources of calories

Meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy are:

  1. Deficient in essential fats (omega 3 and omega 6)
  2. Deficient in vitamin C
  3. A (the) major source of global warming gasses and environmental damage (land and water)
  4. Loaded with allergens that cause autoimmune diseases through molecular mimicry
  5. Meat, poultry, and fish are deficient in calcium and dairy is deficient in iron

*Deficient means that they are unable to meet dietary needs of children and adults

Cholesterol alone cannot be blamed for causing heart disease.

As the Washington Post article pointed out, nutrition science is complicated. However that doesn’t mean that cholesterol shouldn’t have a guideline. All of the guidelines the government sets should point to the same healthy diet: a whole-food plant-based diet.

Keeping the guideline for cholesterol encourages people to replace cholesterol-laden food with cholesterol free food. It also encourages individuals to consume more nutrient dense food, food with less fat and less food containing saturated fat. When done properly, all nutritional guidelines should go hand in hand with each other and support one another.

Animal Products

What’s wrong with animal products? Not just the cholesterol…

Food labels either encourage or discourage consumption of certain foods. The fiber content of foods are labeled because the Standard American Diet (SAD) is lacking in fiber. Certain vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin D, calcium and iron are listed on food labels because Americans are usually deficient in one or many of these essential nutrients.

Amounts of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fat) are listed as the government has provided recommendations for the amounts of each macronutrient individuals should be consuming. Saturated fat and trans fats are listed on food labels because they both need to be limited according to both current USDA standards and non-government nutritionists. Salt (sodium) and sugar are listed on food packages because the SAD currently contains too much added amounts of these products.Wild salmon nutrition label

In the end food labels and government-issued dietary recommendations can either help or hurt the health of a nation.

On one hand, individuals poorly educated in nutrition need a hand to hold in order to eat healthily. This means guidelines and recommendations need to be put in place and food labels need to be enforced.

On the other hand, the guidelines, recommendations and food labels can confuse individuals into believing that nutritional science is simple. Nutritional science is far from simple. Proper nutrition is a combination of proper levels of sugar, starch, fat, protein, cholesterol, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients humans need to thrive. Pinning any sort of chronic disease, whether it be diabetes, heart disease or cancer, on a single dietary factor is naïve.

So should the government keep its recommendation for cholesterol?


However, individuals need to know that eating high amounts of cholesterol alone won’t cause a heart attack. Their SAD diet that includes excess fat, saturated fat, trans fat, protein and sodium — a combination of poor dietary choices — will.

  • Updated 3 years ago
Sara Binde

Sara is a health and nutrition coach. She advocates for a whole foods plant-based lifestyle and teaches the world how to achieve weight loss.