The US government put out its new dietary guidelines on Thursday, which include a recommendation that Americans limit the amount of cholesterol they consume.
The US Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services puts out these guidelines every five years.
But the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that promotes a vegan diet, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the USDA and the HHS over a claim that a committee that helped advise them had financial ties to the egg industry.
Cholesterol in food comes from animal products such as egg yolks, dairy products, shellfish, meats, and poultry. Previous dietary guidelines have recommended limiting cholesterol consumption to 300 milligrams per day, or slightly less than the amount in two eggs.
Cholesterol fears turned eggs into a reviled food. Then, research suggested the poultry product was not as bad as we thought. But the new lawsuit suggests the majority of research on dietary cholesterol is funded by the egg industry, and this could have important repercussions for Americans’ health.
“We uncovered documents showing the egg industry was trying to get limits on cholesterol removed,” Neal Barnard, President of the Physicians Committee, told Business Insider.
Influenced by Big Egg?
But here’s where the lawsuit comes in:
In February, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) — an independent committee made up of experts in nutrition, health, and medicine that helped inform the new guidelines — announced that dietary cholesterol was “not a nutrient of concern,” and has no relation to levels of cholesterol in blood.
But the Physicians Committee alleges that members of DGAC came from institutions funded by the egg industry and relied on industry-funded research to make their recommendations.
According to the Committee, a Freedom of Information Act request they filed “revealed a money trail from the American Egg Board to universities where DGAC members were employed and persistent industry pressure to weaken cholesterol limits,” the nonprofit wrote in a statement. (The American Egg Board is a marketing board that promotes the consumption of eggs and egg products.)
However, it appears the government didn’t take the advisory committee’s advice on dietary cholesterol.
The risks of consuming cholesterol
While the new dietary guidelines don’t include a cholesterol limit, they do contain warnings against consuming too much cholesterol, stating that “Individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible while consuming a healthy eating pattern.”
The guidelines also cite “strong evidence” that eating patterns that limit dietary cholesterol are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, and “moderate evidence” that these patterns reduce the risk of obesity. They also include recommendations for a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet.
Barnard praised the guidelines for including cholesterol warnings, calling them a “major step forward,” but emphasised that the advisory committee was still tainted by its industry ties.
“Our lawsuit isn’t attacking the guidelines, it’s attacking the advisory committee,” he said.
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