What is the Truth about Fat and Cholesterol?

SONY DSCCholesterol and fats have gotten a bad rap. But the truth about fat and cholesterol is complicated – there’s both good and bad.

And the bad cholesterol foods to avoid aren’t necessarily foods high in cholesterol.

Cholesterol and fats first went under attack back in the 50′s, when scientists discovered a high cholesterol relationship to heart disease. The resulting “expert” advice was to avoid all foods with cholesterol.

But the truth about cholesterol is you make more than you absorb.

What’s more, to protect yourself from deadly degenerative diseases, how much fat you eat isn’t that important. It’s mainly the kind of fat you eat that matters most. So, good fat, bad fat, what’s the big fat difference?

Understanding the Truth about Cholesterol and Fats

The sterols in cholesterol are health essentials necessary for your brain and building cell walls, sex hormones and the juices that digest fat.

And although high cholesterol in your bloodstream can cause problems, the cholesterol in food isn’t nearly the villain you’ve been led to believe.

Current scientific studies show very little relationship between the cholesterol eaten and blood cholesterol levels. (The only exceptions are for diabetics, who seem to be more sensitive to cholesterol in food.)

The major influence on your blood cholesterol levels is the mixture of good and bad fats in your diet – not the amount of cholesterol in your food.

Bad fats (trans fat and excess saturated fat) increase your risk of disease. But good fats (the polyunsaturated fat in whole grains, nuts and seeds and the monounsaturated fat in olive oil) reduce your disease risk.

So the simple sensible solution is to switch from bad fats to good fats.

 7 Steps to Choosing Good Fats over Bad Fats

1. Make olive oil your #1 choice. Extra virgin olive oil is rich in heart-healthy fatty acids. So spread it on toast and use it in vinaigrette.

2. Avoid all foods with trans fats. Read labels to steer clear of deadly trans fats. When eating out, avoid all baked goods and fried foods.

3. Include omega 3 foods daily. Cold water fish and good quality fish oil supplements are your best sources for the important omega 3 oils.

4. Limit your saturated fat intake. You need a very small amount of saturated fat in your diet for hormones and your cells. But most people get way too much.

5. Eliminate hydrogenated fats. Scan all ingredient lists to be sure your foods don’t contain any partially hydrogenated oils.

6. Go low fat on meat and dairy. Foods high in saturated fats can clog your arteries. So go lean on dairy, meats and poultry (no skin) and eat butter and full fat cheeses only in very small amounts.

7. Choose healthy whole grains. Nuts, beans, seeds, brown rice, whole wheat and rolled oats are rich in nutritious essential fatty acids.

Now that you know the truth about fat and cholesterol, it’s time to start eliminating the bad fats and adding more good healthy fatty acids. You can also learn all seven steps for how to lower cholesterol naturally.

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Lucas M, Mirzaei F, O’Reilly EJ, et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Dietary intake of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids and the risk of clinical depression in women: a 10-y prospective follow-up study. Am J Clin Nutr  2011;93:1337-43.

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Allison DB, Egan SK, Barraj LM, Caughman C, Infante M, Heimbach JT. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Estimated intakes of trans fatty and other fatty acids in the U.S. population. J Am Diet Assoc 1999;99:166-74.

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