Good vs. bad cholesterol

Saturated fats: Reduce this bad fat

When focusing on healthy fats, a good place to start is reducing your consumption of saturated fats. Saturated fats are mainly found in animal products such as red meat and whole milk dairy products. Poultry and fish also contain saturated fat, but less than red meat. Other sources of saturated fat include tropical vegetable oils such as coconut oil and palm oil.

Simple ways to reduce saturated fat

  • Eat less red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) and more fish and chicken
  • Go for lean cuts of meat, and stick to white meat, which has less saturated fat.
  • Bake, broil, or grill instead of frying.
  • Remove the skin from chicken and trim as much fat off of meat as possible before cooking.
  • Avoid breaded meats and vegetables and deep-fried foods.
  • Choose low-fat milk and lower-fat cheeses like mozzarella whenever possible; enjoy full-fat dairy in moderation.
  • Use liquid vegetable oils such as olive oil or canola oil instead of lard, shortening, or butter.
  • Avoid cream and cheese sauces, or have them served on the side.
Sources of Saturated Fats Healthier Options
Butter Olive oil
Cheese Low-fat or reduced-fat cheese
Red meat White meat chicken or turkey
Cream Low-fat milk or fat-free creamer
Eggs Egg whites, an egg substitute (e.g. Eggbeaters), or tofu
Ice cream Frozen yogurt or reduced fat ice cream
Whole milk Skim or 1% milk
Sour cream Plain, non-fat yogurt

Eliminate trans fats from your diet

A trans fat is a normal fat molecule that has been twisted and deformed during a process calledhydrogenation. During this process, liquid vegetable oil is heated and combined with hydrogen gas. Partially hydrogenating vegetable oils makes them more stable and less likely to spoil, which is very good for food manufacturers—and very bad for you.

No amount of trans fats is healthy. Trans fats contribute to major health problems, from heart disease to cancer.

Sources of trans fats

Many people think of margarine when they picture trans fats, and it’s true that some margarines are loaded with them. However, the primary source of trans fats in the Western diet comes from commercially-prepared baked goods and snack foods:

  • Baked goods – cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, pie crusts, pizza dough, and some breads like hamburger buns
  • Fried foods – doughnuts, French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, and hard taco shells
  • Snack foods – potato, corn, and tortilla chips; candy; packaged or microwave popcorn
  • Solid fats – stick margarine and semi-solid vegetable shortening
  • Pre-mixed products – cake mix, pancake mix, and chocolate drink mix

Be a trans fat detective

  • When shopping, read the labels and watch out for “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients. Even if the food claims to be trans fat free, this ingredient makes it suspect.
  • With margarine, choose the soft-tub versions, and make sure the product has zero grams of trans fat and no partially hydrogenated oils.
  • When eating out, put fried foods, biscuits, and other baked goods on your “skip” list. Avoid these products unless you know that the restaurant has eliminated trans fat.
  • Avoid fast food. Most states have no labeling regulations for fast food, and it can even be advertised as cholesterol-free when cooked in vegetable oil.
  • When eating out, ask your server or counter person what type of oil your food will be cooked in. If it’s partially hydrogenated oil, run the other way or ask if your food can be prepared using olive oil, which most restaurants have in stock.

Fish: The best food source of omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fats are a type of essential fatty acid, meaning they are essential to health, but your body can’t make them. You can only get omega-3 fats from food.

The best sources are fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, or sardines, or high-quality cold-water fish oil supplements. Canned albacore tuna and lake trout can also be good sources, depending on how the fish were raised and processed.

Some people avoid seafood because they worry about mercury or other possible toxins in fish. However, most experts agree that the benefits of eating two servings a week of these cold-water fatty fish outweigh the risks.

If you’re a vegetarian or you don’t like fish, you can still get your omega-3 fix by eating algae (which is high in DHA) or taking a fish oil or algae supplement.

Choosing the best omega-3 supplement

With so many omega-3 and fish oil supplements and fortified foods, making the right choice can be tricky. These guidelines can help.

  • Avoid products that don’t list the source of their omega-3s. Does the package list the source of omega-3 fatty acids? If not, chances are it’s ALA (sometimes from plain old canola or soybean oil), which most Westerners already get plenty of.
  • Don’t fall for fortified foods. Many fortified foods (such as margarine, eggs, and milk) claim to be high in omega-3 fatty acids, but often, the real amount of omega-3 is miniscule.
  • Look for the total amount of EPA and DHA on the label. The bottle may say 1,000 milligrams of fish oil, but it’s the amount of omega-3 that matters. Read the small print. It may show only 300 mg of EPA and DHA (sometimes listed as “omega-3 fatty acids”), which means you’d have to take three capsules to get close to 1,000 milligrams of omega-3.
  • Choose supplements that are mercury-free, pharmaceutical grade and molecularly distilled. Make sure the supplement contains both DHA and EPA. They may be hard to find, but supplements with higher concentrations of EPA are better.

Fish oil supplements can cause stomach upset and belching, especially when you first start taking them. To reduce these side effects, take them with food. You may also want to start with a low dose and gradually increase it, or divide the dose among your three meals.

How much omega-3 do I need?

The American Heart Association recommends consuming 1–3 grams per day of EPA and DHA (1 gram = 1,000 milligrams). For the treatment of mental health issues, including depression and ADHD, look for supplements that are high in EPA, which has been shown to elevate and stabilize mood. Aim for at least 1,000 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per day.

The truth about dietary fat and cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty, wax-like substance that your body needs to function properly. In and of itself, cholesterol isn’t bad. But when you get too much of it, it can have a negative impact on your health.

Cholesterol comes from two sources: your body and food. Your body (specifically, the liver) produces some of the cholesterol you need naturally. But you also get cholesterol directly from any animal products you eat, such as eggs, meat, and dairy. Together, these two sources contribute to your blood cholesterol level.

Good vs. bad cholesterol

As with dietary fat, there are good and bad types of cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is the “good” kind of cholesterol found in your blood. LDL cholesterol is the “bad” kind. The key is to keep HDL levels high and LDL levels low. High levels of HDL cholesterol help protect against heart disease and stroke, while high levels of LDL cholesterol can clog arteries, increasing your risk.

Research shows that there is only a weak link between the amount of cholesterol you eat and your blood cholesterol levels. The biggest influence on your total and LDL cholesterol is the type of fats you eat—not your dietary cholesterol. So instead of counting cholesterol, simply focus on replacing bad fats with good fats.

  • Monounsaturated fats lower total and bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, while increasing good cholesterol (HDL).
  • Polyunsaturated fats lower triglycerides and fight inflammation.
  • Saturated fats raise your blood cholesterol.
  • Trans fats are even worse than saturated fats, since they not only raise your bad LDL cholesterol, but also lower the good HDL cholesterol.

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