Clearing up cholesterol confusion

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- A government nutrition panel says cholesterol in food is no longer a concern. It had been for more than 50 years. But that doesn't mean you're free to down as many cheeseburgers and pizza as you like. In fact, you may be surprised to know those are not high-cholesterol foods.

So what are?

Eggs are the top cholesterol-containing food that Americans eat. Chicken livers and shellfish such as lobster and shrimp are up there, too. Many other foods such as pizza that you might think are high cholesterol are not. They're high in saturated fat, not the same thing as cholesterol.

" I think an egg or two a day is not really detrimental," said Dr. Patrick Moriarty, a cholesterol expert at the University of Kansas Hospital.

Dr. Moriarty agrees with what the government panel will say in new dietary guidelines. Cholesterol in foods isn't the villain it was made out to be.

"Cholesterol in your diet only correlates to about 20 percent of cholesterol in your blood. Bottom line is, cholesterol intake is not highly correlated to cholesterol in your blood," said Dr. Moriarty.

Cholesterol in your blood is not okay. The bad type causes plaque to build up in arteries, and when it ruptures, you have a heart attack or stroke. So if cholesterol-rich foods aren't raising levels much in the blood, what is? Genetics, for one thing, but diet, too. Dr. Moriarty says sure, you can point at saturated fats and carbohydrates. But he thinks it isn't so much what we eat. It's how much we eat.

"Whatever they're eating irrespective of whether it's eggs, cheeseburgers or fruit, it's too much. The more calories you intake, the more chance of getting that calorie converted to atherosclerosis related to cholesterol," said Dr. Moriarty.

He says it's all about moderation.

The government's dietary guidelines, which cover things like salt and sugar, too, are updated every five years. They should be released within weeks.

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