What You Can Change in Your Eating To Reduce Your Cholesterol: Part 2
By: Samantha McCarthy MS, RD/LDN
Last week’s nutrition tip was all about the bad fats...saturated and trans fats. These fats run rampant in our food supply, unfortunately. This is partly why heart disease is so prevalent. We just eat too many bad fats. But this does not mean you should fear fat. For decades we have been afraid of eating really any type of fat. Everything became fat-free or reduced fat. What we missed though was a whole different type of fat, that is essential for health: unsaturated fats (AKA “healthy/good fats”).
Unsaturated fats should be included in your daily intake. These fats have been linked to decreased risk of cardiovascular disease because they have the potential to lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and decrease inflammation in the body. They come in two forms: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats are present in many of our foods already. Most plant-based oils like olive, canola, peanut, safflower, and sesame oil are high in monounsaturated fats. They are also high in avocados, peanut butter, nuts, and seeds. Monounsaturated fats have been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol, or your bad cholesterol levels. Oils high in monounsaturated fats are high in Vitamin E as well, an essential vitamin we need that is typically low in our diets. Vitamin E is an antioxidant and has many functions in the body.
The second type of unsaturated fat is called polyunsaturated. You may be more familiar with this one. These are our Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids tend to get all of the glory, but Omega-6 fatty acids are just as important. Omega-6’s have been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol and improve HDL cholesterol. You can find them in oils like safflower, sunflower, corn, and soybean. They are also in sunflower seeds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds. Omega-6’s are important for heart health, but we typically eat all that we need. In recent years, omega-6 fatty acids have been frowned upon. Opponents of omega-6 fatty acids believe that they actually increase our risk for heart disease, but scientific research has yet to prove this fact. More research shows that they improve risk.
The second type of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 fatty acids. These fats have several benefits such as the potential to lower blood pressure, heart rate, triglycerides, and inflammation in the body. There are two types of omega-3’s: EPA/DHA, and ALA. Both are essential for the body, meaning we must get them from food. The body cannot produce these fats, but they are needed in order to function properly. EPA and DHA come mostly from fish sources. ALA is found in vegetable oils like olive oil, nuts, and flaxseed.
Unsaturated fats should replace saturated and trans fats in the diet to lower your total cholesterol levels. It is recommended that at least 10% of your total caloric intake comes from healthy, unsaturated fats. If you follow a 2000-calorie diet, that means you should get about 22 grams of unsaturated fats each day. One tablespoon of olive oil is about 12 grams of unsaturated fats.
We do not need to fear fat. We just need to choose the right kinds of fat to lower cholesterol levels and decrease risk of heart disease. Cut back on the donuts and fried foods and replace them with nuts, avocado, fish, and vegetable oils.
Next week, I will discuss one more important nutrition tip to improve cholesterol levels: SUGARS! (My favorite topic!)