Cutting Through the Cholesterol Confusion
Does cholesterol-free food protect your heart?
Beyond Cholesterol: Saturated Fat and Trans Fat
What's a food shopper to do? Even though cholesterol isn't the chief
villain, it's still worth glancing at how much a packaged food contains. The
official advice from the American Heart Association and other groups is to
limit your total daily intake to less than 300 milligrams.
But while checking cholesterol numbers, also take a look at the saturated
fat, which has a much bigger impact on raising cholesterol levels. Most
nutritionists say a healthy diet should get no more than 7% of calories from
Trans fats may be even more dangerous because they raise LDL, or
"bad" cholesterol levels and lower HDL, the "good cholesterol"
at the same time.
Fortunately, trans fats, which are found in partially hydrogenated oils, are
being phased out of many packaged foods, so they pose less of a danger. Still,
if you eat a lot of processed foods, you may still be consuming more than you
Foods can call themselves "trans-free" as long as they contain less
than half a gram of trans fats per serving. To find out whether a food has
trans fats, check the ingredient label for partially hydrogenated oils.
Lowering Cholesterol With Weight Loss
If you could stand to lose a few pounds, probably the most important number
to check on the label is calories per serving.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Surrey in England showed
that when volunteers cut back on calories, it didn't matter how much dietary
cholesterol they consumed. Even when their diets contained up to 582 milligrams
of cholesterol a day -- far over the recommended amount -- their blood
cholesterol levels remained unchanged as long as they cut back on calories and
"Cholesterol in packaged foods really isn't a big issue," says
McManus. "Three much more important numbers on the nutrition facts
panel are serving size, calories per serving, and the type of fats," says
McManus. "If you keep track of those, you don't have to worry about how
much cholesterol a packaged food contains."