Understanding cholesterol, oil, and fats for a healthier heart
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that the body needs to build cells, but too much of it can strain on our heart and blood vessels. Cholesterol circulates in the blood. The higher the amount of cholesterol in your blood the higher your health risks (American Heart Association, 2017).
There are two types of cholesterol:
- HDL is the cholesterol that is good for your heart and wellness. HDL’s are responsible for carrying the bad cholesterol out of the arteries. By doing so, HDL’s help to protect against heart attack and stroke.
- LDL is the bad cholesterol that has a negative effect on your health. LDL cholesterol contributes to fatty buildups in the arteries and can cause heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease, and Type-II Diabetes (American Heart Association, 2017).
Nutrition tips for preventing high cholesterol
The first tip in preventing high cholesterol is reducing your consumption of foods high in saturated fat. Saturated fat increases the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood. Common sources of saturated fat include full-fat cheese, dairy, and meats. Other sources of LDL’s come from some oils like palm and coconut. Additionally try and eat foods high in fiber like whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Lastly, eat foods higher in unsaturated fats like avocados, fish, flaxseeds, and oils like olive oil, and nuts (American Heart Association, 2015).
Saturated vs. unsaturated fats
According to the American Heart Association, it is good to aim for a dietary pattern that achieves five to six percent of calories from saturated fat. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature (American Heart Association, 2015).
Saturated fat examples include:
- Fatty beef
- Poultry with skin
- Lard and cream
- Dairy products
- Palm or Coconut oils
- Baked and Fried Foods
There are two types of unsaturated fat, mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Mono- and polyunsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature. Mono- and polyunsaturated fats will help lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. They also provide vitamins and minerals to help build your body’s cells (American Heart Association, 2015).
Monounsaturated fat examples include:
- Olive oil
- Canola Oil
- Peanut Oil
- Sesame Oil
- Peanut Butter
- Most Nuts
Polyunsaturated fat examples include:
- Soybean oil
- Corn oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Sunflower Seeds
Polyunsaturated fats comprise several fats that are essential to health called omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are the type of polyunsaturated fats found in seafood, such as salmon, trout, herring, tuna, and mackerel, and in flax seeds and walnuts. It is because of this that the American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times a week. Omega-6 fatty acids are the type of polyunsaturated fats found in most of our oils, nuts, soybeans, and tofu (National Institute of Health, 2018).
Try out the following healthy fat recipes to put your new knowledge to work in the kitchen!
Mediterranean salmon and asparagus (serves 2)
- 10 oz. of Salmon Filets
- 1 # of Asparagus Spears (cut 2” from the bottom)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2T Extra-virgin Olive Oil (salmon)
- 2T Extra-virgin Olive oil (asparagus)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- Optional herbs and spices: marjoram, basil, sage, and parsley
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
- In a small bag place salmon filets, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, a dash of salt, dash of pepper, and any herbs on hand
- Let the bag sit for 5–10 minutes
- In a separate bowl, mix together asparagus, garlic, a dash of salt, and dash of pepper.
- On two small sheet pans or one large pan, arrange salmon and asparagus spears away from one another and place in the oven.
- Set timer for 20 minutes
- Take out salmon and asparagus and serve!
Low-fat no-mayo avocado chicken salad (serves two)
- 8-12 ounces of baked or grilled chicken
- 1 avocado (pitted)
- ½ C of finely chopped onions
- ½ C of finely chopped celery
- ½ C of halved red grapes
- ½ tsp. of salt
- Pinch of black pepper
- Chop chicken into small cubes, add to bowl
- Add mashed avocado
- Add celery, onions, grapes, salt, and black pepper
- Mix the whole bowl slowly, serve on a green salad or whole-wheat bun
- American Heart Association (2015). Polyunsaturated fats.
- American Heart Assoication (2015). Monounsaturated fats.
- American Heart Assoication (2015). Saturated fats.
- American Heart Association (2017). Fish and omega-3 fatty acids.
- American Heart Association (2017). About cholesterol.
- National Institute of Health (2018). Omega-3 fatty acids.