Facts About Cholesterol and Fats
Which Fats Are Saturated?
Saturated fats increase your total cholesterol levels and are generally associated with an increased risk of heart disease. In general, the harder a fat, the more saturated it is. Beef and dairy fats are mostly saturated fats. Liquid oils are usually unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated fats in olive and canola oils and polyunsaturated fats in safflower, corn, soybean, and fish oils. Coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils are exceptions to the rule; these liquid vegetable oils are highly saturated fats.
Fear of Frying
Eating foods with a lot of saturated fat may raise your risk for heart disease; this causes the amount of bad LDLs in your blood to increase while good HDLs decrease. Cut the saturated fat, and your blood-cholesterol levels and your risk for heart disease can fall, too. Your risk for cancer also decreases. A diet with more polyunsaturated fats, rather than saturated fats, lowers total blood-cholesterol levels, but unfortunately also drops HDL levels, so you lose both good and bad cholesterol. Olive oil is another story. This oil lowers total-blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol without causing HDL levels to drop. By using olive oil, you can decrease your total-cholesterol levels while maintaining your HDL levels, thus decreasing your risk for heart disease. Fish also lowers heart disease risk. Consequently, olive and fish are the oils of choice.
The Lowdown on Trans Fats
Hydrogenated fats are liquid vegetable oils made creamy when manufacturers convert some of the unsaturated fats into saturated ones through a process called "hydrogenation." This process also rearranges the molecular shape of the remaining unsaturated fats. The resulting shape is an abnormal "trans" shape.
Trans fatty acids constitute up to 60% of the fat in processed foods containing hydrogenated fats. TFAs raise blood cholesterol levels and increase heart disease risk even more than saturated fats. Knowing your fats gives you an edge when it comes to buying and preparing the right foods to eat. And when you steer away from the saturated fats and trans fatty acids, you can live a heart-healthy life. The bottom line is:
- Eat less saturated fat and avoid trans fats completely.
- Use olive oil, but in moderation if you're watching your weight.
- Fill your plate with fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and legumes.