Cholesterol is a type of waxy lipid used as a structural component of cell membranes and a precursor molecule to hormones. It is also a risk factor in heart disease. There is a lot of confusion surrounding cholesterol because the amount we eat in our diet does not necessary translate to the amount in our body. Therefore, dietary recommendations are difficult to make.
Cholesterol is transported through the blood by molecules known as lipoproteins. There are two main lipoproteins in the blood: high-density lipoproteins, or HDL, and low-density lipoproteins, or LDL. HDL transports cholesterol to the liver to be excreted. LDL, on the other hand, is the most prevalent form of lipoprotein in the blood. Too much of it can cause the deposition of cholesterol in the arterial walls, blocking the flow of blood and potentially leading to heart disease.
Recommended Daily Allowance
According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended daily allowance in the United States for cholesterol is only 300 mg. In addition, the Mayo Clinic states that fruits and vegetables should be emphasized in the diet while limiting animal products. No more than 170 g of meat should be eaten a day.
The recommended daily allowance has sometimes come into question. The reason for this is because dietary cholesterol is only responsible for about 15 percent of total blood cholesterol. The rest is manufactured by the body. Other factors that contribute to blood cholesterol levels include smoking, obesity, physical activity and the consumption of saturated fat. All of these factors must be taken into account as a cohesive whole.
The recommended daily allowance is not a hard line. There are examples where this limit could be exceeded. For instance, a single egg contains about 200 mg of cholesterol; only two eggs will surpass the daily cholesterol recommendations, and yet eggs are generally considered healthy. The UK Food Standards Agency recently dropped its limit on total egg consumption.
What matters is total cholesterol levels in the blood, as measured by milligrams per deciliter. LDL levels below 130 mg/dl and HDL levels above 60 mg/dl are considered ideal. However, LDL levels need to be under 100 mg/dl if you are at risk for heart disease; therefore, you would need to eat less than 200 mg of cholesterol in the diet. Otherwise, 300 mg a day is a good recommendation for a healthy individual, but as long as you get plenty of physical activity, end bad habits, limit saturated fat intake and eat LDL-reducing foods, your blood cholesterol levels should remain healthy.