The Lowdown on Fats and Cholesterol

Friday, August 7, 2009 - 3:21pm

High cholesterol levels can open the door to many serious medical problems, which is why it is so important to keep those levels within a healthy range. Many people believe that fat intake drives cholesterol numbers up, but in truth, it's the wrong kind of fats that are the problem. Eating the right kind of fats can actually help you stay healthy.

Good Fats Versus Bad Fats

Would you be surprised to learn that having some fats in your diet is a requirement for good health? The right kind of fats do good things for your body, from helping you absorb vitamins to aiding in hormone function, not to mention giving you more energy. But how do you know which fats are the "right" kind?

Healthy Fats

Unsaturated fats are healthy fats. For a healthy snack, try a slice of avocado, a spoonful of peanut butter, or a handful of heart-healthy walnuts. When you cook, use olive oil or canola oil. Unsaturated fats actually lower your bad cholesterol, so consuming them in moderation is very good for you.

Not-so-Healthy Fats

Saturated fats are the ones to be avoided if at all possible. Saturated fats can be found in sour cream, lard, butter, ground beef, and full-fat cheese. But those aren't the only culprits--even things that seem rather benign, like gravies made of meat drippings or the skin of poultry, can raise your cholesterol levels.

But the worst offender of all is trans fat. Foods made with hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil can send your cholesterol levels skyrocketing. Shortening and stick margarine fall into this category. So do many fast-food options--that's just another reason among many to avoid or limit visits to fast food chains.

Bring Down Your Cholesterol

A good rule of thumb to keep your blood cholesterol in check is to eat less than 200 mg. of cholesterol per day. Foods that might push you over that limit include organ meats (such as liver or heart), egg yolks, meats high in fat, and some dairy products, like whole milk or ice cream.

You can also bring down your cholesterol by avoiding fried foods, cooking with olive oil, opting to eat fish instead of meat, and staying away from processed foods. The better control you have of your cholesterol levels, the better your health should be, and the better your chances to live a long, healthy life.