Fat and cholesterol used to carry a bad rap, until science resolved recently that high-cholesterol foods do not cause heart disease and clogged arteries (refined sugars and carbohydrates do).
Great! But don’t overstock on bacon just yet. Fat and cholesterol aren’t all bad—which also means they’re not all good. So let’s trim it down to basics and chew on the meat of the matter.
Fat check: good, bad, and maybe
Unsaturated fats are good
Beneficial fats are found in vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish. They are loosely packed and easier to metabolize. They tend to be liquid at room temperature or even when refrigerated, like olive oil. Unsaturated fats are a good source of essential fatty acids.
Trans fats are very bad
Avoid by all means. They are damaging even in small amounts. Trans fats are chemically modified unsaturated fats for slower spoilage. Watch out for fried foods, baked goods, and commercial foods that still use ‘hydrogenated oils’ and traditional margarines.
Saturated fats should be consumed moderately
They are important to the body, but they can block arteries and increase cholesterol levels because they are tightly packed fats. Most saturated fats remain solid at room temperature, like fats in red meat and butter. Some are liquid, like whole milk, coconut oil, and palm oil.
Fat & cholesterol truths
Fact #1: We cannot survive without fat and cholesterol.
Fat is a better energy source than sugar or carbs, and it’s vital for hormone production and nutrient absorption. Cholesterol is part of all animal cells and is crucial for digestion, metabolism, and many other functions. In short, don’t eliminate fats in your diet.
Fact #2: The fat we eat influences our cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol in food bears little impact since 80 percent of the cholesterol in our body is produced by the liver. It’s the type of fat we consume that makes cholesterol rise or fall. This means that eating more healthy fats than bad can keep your cholesterol levels safe.
Fact #3: It takes three to stay healthy.
- Triglycerides (or blood fats) are the excess dietary fats stored in our blood for later use. Genetics and certain illnesses can contribute to high triglyceride levels, but the leading causes are usually over-eating, unhealthy foods, and lack of exercise.
- Bad cholesterol (or LDL) causes plaque buildup in the arteries that can lead to heart attack or stroke. Trans fats raise the LDL level, while unsaturated fats counter it. Too much saturated fats can also cause blockage in the arteries.
- Good cholesterol (or HDL) sweeps the bad cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver. Unsaturated fats raise the HDL level, protect the arteries, and reduce triglycerides.
Keep in mind:
High Triglycerides + Low HDL + High LDL = Higher Risk of Coronary Artery Disease.
Keep your triglycerides & LDL low, and your HDL high. Avoid trans fats, keep saturated fats in check, and add more unsaturated fats to your diet.
In the end, watching what you eat is still better than wishing you could eat what you watch.
What nutrients can help regulate cholesterol levels?
Apart from healthy diet, weight control, and regular exercise to protect your heart and overall health, there are certain nutrients from food and supplements that can help manage cholesterol levels.
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Stewart, Leigh. 2019. “The Ultimate Guide To Good Fats And Bad Fats In Food.” Atlas Biomed Blog | Take Control of Your Health with No-Nonsense News on Lifestyle, Gut Microbes and Genetics. Retrieved October 28, 2020 (https://atlasbiomed.com/blog/ultimate-guide-to-good-fats-bad-fats/)
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