The dreaded Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol:
For a number of years now we have had the improper belief that fats and cholesterol are bad. Remember the food pyramid? For anyone who grew up with these, we know fats are the root of all evil right? Nope, not even close. There are both good and bad fats with good and bad cholesterol. Here’s the breakdown:
Cholesterol: two types: While some types are bad, we now know that we need fats for our bodies to function right.
LDL is “bad” cholesterol, it deposits plaques in the arteries, leading to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Less than 100 is a good score in blood work.
HDL: “good” cholesterol, it cleans up the arteries, lowering risk of heart attack and stroke. Greater than 60 is a good score in blood work.
The take home: eat foods that lower LDL and raise HDL
Fat: also basically two types:
Saturated: fats that are solid at room temperature. These tend to raise LDL and include: butter, animal fats, lard, whole milk and similar products. Some plant products including coconut oil, and palm oil also contain saturated fats, but in the case of coconut oil it also is shown to raise HDL and may have other benefits. Some people suggest using it instead of butter or shortening in baking, but whether the overall effect is good or bad is not fully understood yet.
Unsaturated: Olive, peanut, and canola oils, avocados, nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans, seeds such as pumpkin and sesame seeds, sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils, walnuts, flax seeds, and fish all tend to raise HDL and often have other nutrient benefits as well.
Trans Fats: These are bad, stay away from them. Simply put, they raise LDL and lower HDL. And remember, LDL increases risk for heart attack and stroke, while HDL lowers this risk. These have the added benefit of increasing your risk for acquiring diabetes.
They are used in foods to increase shelf life and give processed pastries a flaky consistency. AHA recommends 0 trans fats per day. They are also labeled as partially hydrogenated oils they are found in: French fries, fried/battered foods, pie crust, margarine, shortening, cake mixes, frosting, dairy creamers, microwave popcorn, biscuits, pastries.
So look for Trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils on the label and stay away from any food with them.
Choosemyplate.gov suggests ways to reduce saturated fats
- Use oil-based dressings and spreads on foods instead of butter, stick margarine, or cream cheese.
- Drink fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk instead of reduced-fat (2%) or whole milk.
- Buy lean cuts of meat instead of fatty meats or choose these foods less often.
- Add low-fat cheese to homemade pizza, pasta, and mixed dishes.
- In recipes, use low-fat plain yogurt instead of cream or sour cream.