The Cholesterol / Saturated Fat Connection

May 20th, 2009

Cholesterol is a type of fat your body needs to produce cell membranes and hormones. Most (65-85%) of the cholesterol in your body is produced by your liver. Additional cholesterol in our bodies comes from foods such as meat, high-fat dairy and eggs. High blood cholesterol is one of several risk factors for heart disease.

Two Kinds of Cholesterol

Just as fats are often described as “good” or ‘bad,’ the types of cholesterol in your blood are referred to as “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol. HDL (high-density lipoproteins) is often referred to as “good” cholesterol because it carries excess cholesterol from cells and tissues back to the liver for processing. Having a low HDL level increases your risk of heart disease.

LDL (low-density lipoproteins) is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol. A high level of LDL cholesterol in the blood can contribute to clogged arteries, also known as arteriosclerosis. Clogged vessels can cause heart attacks if they block the flow of blood to the heart, and stroke if they block blood flow to the brain. Therefore, having a high LDL level increases your risk of heart disease.

Lower Your Saturated Fat, Lower Your LDL Cholesterol

When people learn they have high blood cholesterol, many think they must reduce the amount of cholesterol in their diet. But recent research shows the amount of cholesterol you eat has little impact on the cholesterol in your blood. A more effective way to lower your cholesterol is to reduce your intake of saturated fats, like those found in meats and high-fat dairy foods.

The USDA recommends saturated fat intake should be less than 10% of your total caloric intake. For women, this means no more than about 20 grams per day, and no more than 24 grams for men. Currently Americans consume, on average, 11-12% of their total calories from saturated fat.

Tips to Limit Your Saturated Fat

–  Pick low-fat dairy products like skim milk, low-fat yogurt, reduced-cheeses and leaner cuts of meat
–  Limit your intake of fatty meat, poultry skin, egg yolks, butter and other high-fat dairy products.
–  Avoid trans fats, which raise cholesterol just like saturated fats. Stay away from processed foods that list partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in the ingredients.
–  When cooking with oils, use olive and canola oils, which are particularly low in saturated fats.
–  Snack on a small handful of nuts rather than potato chips or processed crackers.
–  Add slices of avocado, rather than cheese, to your sandwich.