Eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet.” Most of us have heard this simple recommendation so often over the past two decades that we can recite it in our sleep. Touted as a way to lose weight and prevent cancer and heart disease, it’s no wonder much of the nation – and food producers – hopped on board.
All fats are a combination of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Each offers some health benefit to the body. The American Heart Association recommends limiting total fat to no more than 30%, 10% of which can come from saturated fat.
Fats can be classed as either saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. This depends on the type of chemical bonds present in the fatty acid. If a fatty acid has all the hydrogen atoms it can hold it is termed saturated. However, if some of the hydrogen atoms are absent and the usual single bond between carbon atoms has been replaced by a double bond, then it is unsaturated. If there is just one double bond then it is monounsaturated. If there is more than one then it is polyunsaturated. Most fats contain a proportion of each of these three basic types of fatty acid but are generally described according to which type predominates.
Your body requires some fat, so eat a little but make sure it’s the right kind. Most current guidelines say it’s okay to obtain as much as 30% of daily calories from fat as long as only a third of that fat is saturated. However, quite a few scientists and health practitioners would prefer to see total fat limited to around 10%.
Foods high in saturated fats include meats, cheese, butter, eggs, milk, palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil, and baked goods like cookies, crackers, and pastries. Saturated fats can be used only for energy; they are incapable of performing other essential functions for which fats are needed by your body. More importantly, saturated fats (particularly animal fats) raise your total blood cholesterol and have been linked to heart disease and various cancers.
“Fats” in the everyday sense are solid at room temperature while oils are liquid. Fats are made up of fatty acids that give fats their different flavors, textures, and melting points. There are two types, saturated and unsaturated. Nutritionists call both saturated and unsaturated fats “triglycerides”. A triglyceride has three fatty acids attached to a substance called glycerol.
Fat’s basic component is therefore the triglyceride, which consists of a glycerol base with three fatty acid chains attached. The difference between the various types of fats depends upon which fatty acids are in the triglyceride.
Unsaturated fatty acids (linoleic and linolenic acid) must be taken in the diet and are thus called essential fatty acids. Cholesterol is not an acid, but a type of fat found mainly in animal products such as egg yolk.
Cholesterol belongs to the sterol group of fats. It is present in all animal tissues but is absent from plants. Cholesterol is essential as a component of cell membranes and a precursor of bile acids and certain hormones. The body can make its own cholesterol and so a dietary source is not required.
Cholesterol is transported in to various proteins. These complex molecules are called lipoproteins. There are four main types of lipoprotein involved in cholesterol transport. The most commonly refer red to are low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein (HDL).
Cholesterol may form plaques on artery walls if levels in the blood are too high. This can lead to atherosclerosis. Because of this high blood cholesterol is linked with heart disease. It is the LDL cholesterol, which has been linked to heart disease. HDL cholesterol may help protect against the risk of heart disease.
The amount of dietary cholesterol is not clearly linked to levels of cholesterol in the blood. Blood cholesterol is more closely related to the amount of saturated fat in the diet, saturated fat raising blood cholesterol. Unsaturated fats are not thought to raise blood cholesterol and may indeed lower levels.
Our bodies can make all of our cholesterol, but most people also get it from foods. Different foods vary in the amount of cholesterol they contain. Only animal products have cholesterol; plants do not.
Cholesterol is necessary for a healthy body. By itself, it is not harmful. However, a high blood level of total cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, along with high levels of LDL cholesterol. The higher the level, the greater the risk. In contrast, high levels of HDL cholesterol are protective.
Here are some facts about saturated fats:
- They make up at least 50 percent of our cell membranes, providing essential rigidity and strength
- They enhance the immune system
- They help incorporate calcium into our bones
- Some of them have antimicrobial properties that protect us against harmful microorganisms in our digestive tracts
And here are some facts about cholesterol:
- It contributes to cell membrane rigidity and strength, just as saturated fats do
- It is used to make hormones that help us deal with stress, as well to make sex hormones
- It is converted to vitamin D, essential for proper growth, healthy bones, a healthy nervous system, muscle tone, and proper immune system function
- It is used to make bile, needed for digestion of fat in our foods
- It acts as an antioxidant, actually protecting us against cellular damage that leads to heart disease and cancer
- It helps maintain a healthy intestinal lining, offering protection against autoimmune illnesses
The following foods are concentrated sources of healthy fats and/or healthy cholesterol:
- Nuts and seeds
- Cold-water fish
- Organic eggs
- Organic chicken
- Grass-fed beef
- Virgin Coconut Oil
- Red Palm Oil – used throughout Africa
- Cold Pressed Olive Oil
Please submit your Suggestions / Tips here. We value your input..