Cholesterol vs. Saturated Fat

The question of what causes high cholesterol can have a complicated answer. If you are diagnosed with high cholesterol and are told by your doctor or a registered dietitian to eat a heart healthy diet to lower your cholesterol, where would you start? Would you try to find out what foods are high in cholesterol and lower them, or would you first try to find out what causes high cholesterol in the first place? Probably both!

We now know that while the cholesterol in foods can raise blood cholesterol and thereby increase the risk for heart disease, saturated fat and trans fatty acids generally raise blood cholesterol, and heart disease risk, significantly more. That is, the amount of cholesterol in your diet doesn’t translate directly into the amount of cholesterol that ends up in your blood. In some/most cases, the amount of saturated fat consumed is the main culprit of the high cholesterol reading. You should limit your total cholesterol intake, but relying on this alone will most likely not help to lower your total cholesterol. Lowering your saturated fat intake will, and it will also help shrink your waistline too!

Saturated fat is found in all animal food sources. It is also found in palm oil and coconut oil. This type of fat clogs the arteries and veins, and can lead to obesity, heart disease, arthrosclerosis, and stroke. Cholesterol is found in animal sources as well, but can be mixed with a “good” (HDL) and “bad” (LDL) kind. HDL cholesterol can actually clean the arteries of what LDL there is floating around. So, by boosting your HDL cholesterol you can actually lower your overall cholesterol. Exercise and eating heart healthy fats, such as olive oil, can do this and the fats found in salmon, some nuts and avocado. There is no redeeming quality about saturated fats at all. Trying to choose lowfat versions of the typical high fat foods is one way to curb the intake. There are many choices of lowfat dairy products and lean meats on the market today. Keeping meat portions to 3 ounces, avoiding fried foods, and limiting high fat diary products will all help in lowering saturated fat intake.

So, just remember it’s not always the actual cholesterol that you are ingesting that is causing your elevated cholesterol problem. Don’t blame the egg, shrimp, or crab meat, when you should be looking at the cheese, steak, donut, or whole milk latte!

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