More butter, anyone?

A warning against eating foods high in cholesterol is no longer included in the US government’s draft dietary guidelines for Americans, representing a major shift in policy, officials said on Thursday.

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Until now, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that cholesterol intake be limited to 300 milligrams per day – the amount in about one stick of butter, or two small eggs, or a 300 gram steak.

Medical experts used to believe that eating too much cholesterol could raise the risk of heart attack and stroke by contributing to plaque buildup in the arteries.

But the 2015 version of the guidelines will no longer place an upper limit on cholesterol “because available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol”, the US Department of Agriculture said in a statement.

The draft report, published online at health.gov/dietaryguidelines, said “cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”

The recommended changes were compiled by 14 nationally recognised nutrition, medicine and public health experts.

The guidelines do not become official right away. Instead, they are open for a 45-day comment period and will be discussed at a public meeting in Bethesda, Maryland on March 24.

“We have seen this controversy, especially surrounding the consumption of eggs, which are very high in cholesterol yet filled with beneficial nutrients,” said Suzanne Steinbaum, preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

The committee “clearly is trying to dispel the idea that cholesterol matters”.

While cholesterol may be getting a free pass, the saturated fat that usually accompanies it is not.

In fact, experts recommend that Americans eat less than before.

Calories from saturated fat should make up about eight per cent of a person’s daily calorie intake, compared to the 2010 guidelines that advised 10 per cent.

For an average person, eating 2,000 calories per day, the new guidelines would mean the limit of saturated fat could be achieved with a few spoonfuls of butter, or a dozen eggs – since eggs are naturally low in saturated fat – or a seven-ounce steak.

“Saturated fat is still a nutrient of concern for overconsumption, particularly for those older than the age of 50 years,” said the report.