Saturated Fats and the Domino Effect

Saturated Fats and the Domino Effect

Fat, like cholesterol, isn’t by itself a bad thing. Some dietary fats are needed for good health. Fats supply energy and essential fatty acids and promote absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Although, like dominoes, when we get high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol in our diet, a number of health risks will begin to come down on us, including increased blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes and a greater risk for heart disease.

When saturated fatty acids increase the production of cholesterol, saturated fats tend to clump together and form deposits in the body. In turn, they get lodged in blood cells and organs, leading to many health problems, including obesity, heart diseases, and many other maladies. The build-up in the arteries can cause a narrowing of the arteries, called atherosclerosis, which consequently can lead to major heart problems.

More Americans are now aware that it’s easier to lower intake of saturated fats and cholesterol-rich foods than in the recent past, and fewer people are dying from the most common form of heart disease. Still, many people continue to eat high-fat diets, the number of overweight people has increased, and the risk of heart disease and other issues remains high.

Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol more than other forms of fat. Reducing saturated fat to less than 10 percent of calories will help you lower your blood cholesterol level. The fats from meat, milk, and milk products are the main sources of saturated fats in most diets. Many bakery products are also sources of saturated fats. Vegetable oils supply smaller amounts of saturated fat.

Olive and canola oils are particularly high in monounsaturated fats; most other vegetable oils, nuts, and high-fat fish are good sources of polyunsaturated fats. Both kinds of unsaturated fats reduce blood cholesterol when they replace saturated fats in the diet. The fats in most fish are low in saturated fatty acids and contain a certain type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (omega-3) that is under study because of a possible association with a decreased risk for heart disease in certain people. Remember that the total fat in the diet should be consumed at a moderate level -- that is, no more than 30 percent of calories. Mono- and polyunsaturated fat sources should replace saturated fats within this limit.

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as those used in many margarines and shortenings, contain a particular form of unsaturated fat known as trans-fatty acids that may raise blood cholesterol levels, although not as much as saturated fat.

Choose a diet low in cholesterol

Foods high in fat should be enjoyed sparingly. A diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol will help you live a longer, healthier life.

Some foods and food groups in the Food Guide Pyramid are higher in fat than others. Fats and oils, and some types of desserts and snack foods that contain fat provide calories but few nutrients. Many foods in the milk group and in the meat and beans group (which includes eggs and nuts, as well as meat, poultry, and fish) are also high in fat, as are some processed foods in the grain group. Choosing lower fat options among these foods allows you to eat the recommended servings from these groups and increase the amount and variety of grain products, fruits, and vegetables in your diet without going over your calorie needs.

Trans fat, as well as saturated fat and dietary cholesterol raises the LDL (or "bad") cholesterol that increases your risk for a variety of health dangers. Americans on average consume 4 to 5 times as much saturated fat as trans fat in their diet.

And while saturated fat is the main dietary offender that raises LDL, trans fat and dietary cholesterol are also significant culprits.

The body makes the cholesterol it requires. In addition, cholesterol is obtained from food. Dietary cholesterol comes from animal sources such as egg yolks, meat (especially organ meats such as liver), poultry, fish, and higher fat milk products. You can keep your cholesterol intake at this level or lower by eating more grain products, vegetables and fruits, and by limiting intake of high cholesterol foods. Researchers emphasize the importance of maintaining a heart-healthy diet that's low in red meat and high in fish and other foods that lower bad cholesterol, such as olive oil, whole grains and nuts.

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