Fasten your seat belts for some dietary turbulence ahead!
Cholesterol, the maligned component of many foods, is about to be removed from the list of dietary evils you should avoid.
While the rest of us were sautéing kale in a conservative amount of olive oil, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has been busily investigating the latest scientific word on human nutrition and health.
This week this panel of nutrition experts submitted a report to the federal government that will form the basis for the next iteration of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, currently summarized by “My Plate.”
On the bottom of page 17 of this 12-megabyte document is a brief statement on cholesterol.
To summarize, it says:
Yes, we know that for like, the last 30 years or so, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300 mg/day. Translation: about 10 shrimp or one-and-a-half eggs per day.
But this year it’s different.
This time we are not going to make any recommendation about cholesterol. Why? Because it turns out there is no clear-cut relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and cholesterol in the blood.
In fact, cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.
All of a sudden a childhood filled with margarine, Snackwells and something my grandmother concocted called “mock hollandaise sauce” (and I assure you, it was something to be mocked) flashed before my eyes.
It turns out that within the nutrition field there has long been a lack of understanding on how eating cholesterol affects the cholesterol our body naturally produces.
Yep, our body actually makes its own cholesterol. It’s a necessary component of all kinds of bodily functions, like building cell membranes (and you may recall from high school biology, your entire body is made up of cells).
So what about the link between cholesterol and heart attacks and all that?
It is true that the cholesterol your body makes plays an important role in cardiovascular disease, which can lead to heart attacks.
In the bloodstream, cholesterol hitches a ride with two kinds of lipoproteins, high density (HDL aka “good”) and low-density (LDL aka “bad”). Too much of the LDL variety in the blood can contribute to a pileup of plaque in your arteries, which is bad news. This buildup can restrict the flow of blood through the body and lead to heart attack or strokes.
In other words, you do not want a lot of LDL floating around your bloodstream.
On the other hand, HDL scavenges cholesterol from around the body and brings it to the liver so it can be excreted. Yay, good HDL!
However, there has never been any solid scientific evidence that eating foods with lots of cholesterol had any affect on the LDL already in your blood, hence the new recommendation from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
What appears to have a greater impact on LDL are two other dietary bad boys:
- Trans-fats, aka partially-hydrogenated oils, which are a man-made substance found in many processed food products like cookies, crackers, piecrusts and biscuits.
- Saturated fats that naturally occur in dairy products (butter, cheese, milk, etc.), meat (beef, lamb, pork, chicken) and plant-based oils like coconut and palm oil.
Genetics can also play a role. Some people are just genetically predisposed to having high blood cholesterol, or not clearing it out of their bodies efficiently.
Still with me?
I imagine that the nutrition field will take some heat for this recommendation, which is definitely confusing. After all, it’s been beaten into our heads for at least a generation that cholesterol is the devil. But keep in mind that like other scientific fields, knowledge about nutrition is constantly evolving as researchers learn more.
The bottom line is that humans just haven’t figured out exactly how everything works in our complicated human machinery. And there are bound to be other forehead-slapping findings like this in the future.
So the big question that remains is:
What’s for dinner?
I say shrimp!
Easy to cook, good if bought frozen or fresh, and totally laden with cholesterol, shrimp feels fancy even in the simplest of preparations.
And nothing is easier or more elegant than shrimp scampi.
This recipe was 100% torn from the webpages of the now-defunct Gourmet Magazine (which lives on via epicurious.com, hallelujah). I didn’t change a thing, except to slice the garlic rather than putting it through a press, only because I’ve never really figured out how to properly use a garlic press.
highly recommend using implore you to use wild shrimp, and more specifically if you can find it, wild Key West pink shrimp (I found this frozen at Whole Foods). It has a delicate, sweet flavor that tastes as clean and fresh as the clear tropical waters it comes from.
UPDATE: A recent article by Barry Estabrook revealed that much of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. is harvested using slave labor in Thailand. So please, do not make this recipe with slave shrimp. Imported, unprocessed shrimp should be labeled with its country of origin.
I must confess that I made my own pasta for this (first time!), but it’s just as good and easy to make with boxed pasta too.
Lastly, given the little nutrition lesson above, I would be remiss if I didn’t also say that due to the generous amounts of oil and butter in this recipe, it’s best to make this for special occasions only.
Shrimp Scampi Pasta
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 lb peeled and deveined large shrimp (NOT from Thailand)
- 4 large garlic cloves, left unpeeled and forced through a garlic press, or sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3/4 lb angel-hair pasta
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Bring a 6- to 8-quart pot of salted water to a boil.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté shrimp, turning over once, until just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl. Add garlic to oil remaining in skillet along with red pepper flakes, wine, salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, 1 minute. Add butter to skillet, stirring until melted, and stir in shrimp. Remove skillet from heat.
Cook pasta in boiling water until just tender, about 3 minutes. Reserve one cup of the pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander. Toss pasta well with shrimp mixture and parsley in large bowl, adding some of reserved cooking water if necessary to keep moist.