Dietary Fat and Blood Cholesterol
It is now recognized that blood cholesterol levels are closely linked to fat intake.
- In general, a high fat intake – especially of saturated fat – is likely to raise blood cholesterol.
- A sensible fat intake (25-30 percent of calories) from vegetable fats/oils (or oily fish) especially those polyunsaturated fats rich in omega-3, is likely to lower cholesterol.
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There are three main types of fats in food:
Found in red meats and red meat products, such as beef, pork, and lamb, as well as dairy products; in tropical oils such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil; and in vegetables oils that have been chemically changed to make them solid at room temperature (a process called hydrogenation) turning them into Trans-Fats.
Found in plant oils such as olive, canola, and peanut oil. Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature but harden in the refrigerator.
Found in plant oils such as safflower, sunflower, corn, or soybean oil. Fish, especially cold-water fish, contain a special type of polyunsaturated fat called omega-3 fat that may help protect against heart disease by slowing blood clotting. Polyunsaturated fats remain liquid even at colder temperatures.
Dietary Fats That Raise Blood Cholesterol Levels
Although all fats are concentrated sources of calories and can contribute to weight gain (and thus, high blood cholesterol levels), saturated fat is the most harmful type of fat.
Saturated fat is the main cause of high blood cholesterol levels. When you eat too much saturated fat, your body reacts by making more cholesterol than it needs, and the surplus ends up in your blood.
Dietary Fats That Lower Blood Cholesterol Levels
Both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help lower blood cholesterol levels by helping your body get rid of newly-formed cholesterol. But these fats should replace some of the saturated fat in your diet – not be used in addition to saturated fat. Point is,fat contains 9 calories per gram, whereas protein and carbohydrates only contain four calories per gram. So using a large amount of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats to lower cholesterol will backfire, because the extra calories will make you gain weight, which will push up your cholesterol levels.
Note: some polyunsaturated fats are now believed to lower the good cholesterol (HDL) as well as the bad cholesterol (LDL).
Replace Saturated Fat with Monounsaturated/ Polyunsaturated Fat:
- Use margarine and spreads made from these oils instead of butter. (If a food lists a hydrogenated oil as the first or second ingredient, it is still high in saturated fat.)
- Use liquid vegetable oils in cooking.
- Use vegetable oil spray to coat cooking pans.
Read the ingredient labels and choose foods made with vegetable oils rather than hydrogenated vegetable oils, lard, butter, or tropical oils such as palm or coconut oil.
Dietary Cholesterol Can Raise Blood Cholesterol
Although a diet high in saturated fat is the main cause of high blood cholesterol levels, high cholesterol in the diet can also raise blood cholesterol levels. And usually the effect is twice as bad, because foods high in cholesterol are usually high in saturated fat.
Which Foods Contain Cholesterol?
Only animal foods contain cholesterol – plant foods do not contain cholesterol. In animals, as in humans, cholesterol is a part of all cells and serves many vital functions. Therefore, foods of animal origin – such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or milk – all contain some cholesterol.
Generally, foods high in animal fat are also high in cholesterol. Two exceptions to this generalization are liver and egg yolks, which are not high in fat but are high in cholesterol.
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Dietary Carbohydrates Can Help Lower Blood Cholesterol
Carbohydrates come in two varieties – simple and complex.
Simple Carbohydrates include:
- Refined sugars such as table sugar, brown sugar, and corn syrup.
- Naturally occurring sweeteners such as honey and sugars present in fruits and vegetables
Complex Carbohydrates include:
- Starches, found in grain products and starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn.
- Dietary fiber, found in whole grain products, fruits, and vegetables
Foods rich in complex carbohydrates include: fruits, vegetables, breads, pasta, rice, cereals, dried beans and peas, nuts, and seeds.
Experts recommend that we get about 55 percent of our calories from carbohydrates – mostly complex carbohydrates.
How These Foods Help Lower Blood Cholesterol
These foods can help lower your cholesterol level in several ways:
- Carbohydrate-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are naturally low in calories. When you eat more of these foods, you will eat less of the foods higher in fat and cholesterol.
- Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts and seeds are good sources of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber, especially a certain type of fiber called soluble fiber, can help lower cholesterol levels by removing a little cholesterol out of the body before it gets to the bloodstream. Especially high in soluble fiber are foods such as oat bran, beans, peas, rice bran, and citrus fruits.
- Carbohydrate-rich fruits and vegetables also contain vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene and other substances that function as antioxidants. Antioxidants help prevent cholesterol from being moved out of the blood and into the lining of the blood vessels.