Ask the Experts

Joyce Sokolik, RD, CDE

Diet & Nutrition
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Fats, Fats, Fats

By Joyce Sokolik

Cholesterol in Your Blood

  • LDL cholesterol is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increase your risk of heart disease.
  • HDL cholesterol is frequently called “good” cholesterol. High levels of HDL decrease your risk of heart disease.
  • (Don’t look for LDL and HDL cholesterol in food. These terms refer only to blood cholesterol.)

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in the body cells of humans and animals. It is needed to form hormones, cell membranes and other body substances. The body is able to make all the cholesterol it needs for these functions. Cholesterol is not needed in the diet.

Fats in Food

Cholesterol is found in all animal tissues…meat, poultry and fish.  It is also found in milk and dairy products and in egg yolks.  It is not found in foods of plant origin such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds or vegetable oils.  No oils contain cholesterol.

Saturated Fats are the kind of fats that have the most effect on raising blood cholesterol.  These fats are found in whole or reduced fat dairy products, cream, cheese, butter, ice cream, meat and poultry, and they are also found in coconut, palm and palm kernel oils.

Monounsaturated Fats help to lower your total cholesterol and possibly raise your HDL “good” cholesterol.  Examples of foods containing these fats are olive, sesame, canola and peanut oils, avocados, olives, peanut butter, almonds, peanuts and cashews.

Polyunsaturated Fats might help to lower your total cholesterol a modest amount but they do not have a positive effect on HDL cholesterol.  Examples of foods containing these fats are sunflower, corn, soybean and safflower oils, salad dressings, sunflower seeds, walnuts and many tub margarines.

Trans Fats raise the LDL (bad” cholesterol and may lower HDL “good” cholesterolTrans fats form when vegetable oils are hydrogenated to make them solid at room temperature and enable them to withstand high frying temperatures. Trans fats, which are also partially hydrogenated fats, are used to extend the shelf life of products.  They are in stick margarine, shortening, pastries, doughnuts cookies and crackers, French fries and other deep-fried foods.
 Look for foods that contain no trans fat.  If a label says partially hydrogenated oils it contains trans fats.  Many manufacturers are making margarine and other products that are trans fat free. 

Note:  All fats, whether they contain mainly saturated fats, monounsaturated fats or polyunsaturated fats provide the same number of calories.


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