Cholesterol is a type of lipid or fat. It is made by your liver and used for various bodily functions. Too much cholesterol circulating in the bloodstream is dangerous to your health. A total cholesterol reading of above 200 milligrams/deciliter is a risk factor for heart disease. Triglycerides are a type of fat that circulates in the bloodstream. Triglyceride levels above 150 milligrams/deciliter are also a risk factor for heart disease. Foods that are high in fat, particularly saturated and trans fat, contribute to elevated cholesterol levels while sweets and alcohol increase triglyceride levels.
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Foods High in Saturated Fats
Foods rich in saturated fats are a major contributor to the development of heart disease. Saturated fats are found exclusively in animal foods. Foods rich in saturated fat include fatty meats, pastries, chocolate, butter, cheese, 2-percent or whole-fat dairy products, whipped cream, and the skin of poultry. Typically, if a fat is solid at room temperature, it is saturated. Saturated fats increase LDL cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. Although the Recommended Daily Value (DV) for total fat is 30 percent to 35 percent of calories, saturated fat should be limited to 7 percent to 10 percent of total calories according to the American Heart Association.
Food Sources of Trans Fats
Trans fats increase cholesterol levels as much as saturated fats, contributing to heart disease and atherosclerosis. Trans fats are found in non-animal foods, especially foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils. Most margarines and all vegetable shortenings are high in trans fats, providing 0.3 grams to 4.2 grams per tablespoon according to the United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrition Database. Partially hydrogenated oils are found in many processed foods, including commercially prepared baked goods, especially sandwich cookies, fried foods, especially French fries and many snack foods, such as crackers and chips. In fact, 40 percent of total trans fats consumed in the United States come from cakes, cookies, pies, breads and crackers, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
Most plant oils are made up of unsaturated fatty acids and do not increase blood cholesterol levels or clog the arteries. There is an exception. Tropical oils, such as coconut, palm kernel and palm oil, are made up of mostly saturated fats and do increase cholesterol levels. Coconut oil is actually higher in saturated fatty acids than butter! Palm oil is about 50 percent saturated fat. Cottonseed oil, though not a tropical oil, is not a good choice because more than 25 percent of the fat that it contains is saturated. These oils have been used in processed foods for decades, including some cereals, commercially prepared cookies, pies, cake mixes, crackers and frostings. Although unrefined (extra virgin) tropical oils, such as coconut oil, provide some antioxidants and phytonutrients, and do not contain cholesterol, they are highly saturated, unhealthy for the heart, and should be consumed in a very limited quantity, if at all, according to the American Heart Association.
Sweets and Alcohol
The dietary recommendations for controlling triglyceride levels are not the same as those for total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. Concentrated sweets and alcohol increase blood triglyceride levels the most. Foods high in added sugars include bakery goods, candy, ice cream, cookies, cakes, sugary cereals, donuts and other sweet treats. To keep your blood triglyceride levels at 150 milligrams/deciliter or lower, limit these foods in your diet. Additionally, consuming large quantities of alcoholic beverages, such as spirits, beer, wine, liquors and the like may similarly increase triglyceride levels. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, men should consume less than or equal to two alcoholic beverages daily, and for women, less than or equal to one alcoholic beverage daily.