Plaque buildup in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, is most commonly due to two types of dietary fats: saturated fats and trans fats. Consuming high amounts of each of these fats will cause bad, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels to rise. As LDL cholesterol levels increase, arterial plaque begins to accumulate, and blockages can occur. This can lead to heart-related diseases, including coronary heart disease, carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease and chronic kidney disease.
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The plaque buildup that causes atherosclerosis includes fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances. As this plaque builds up over time, the flow of blood to major organs in the body becomes limited. With a lack of oxygen-rich blood, vital organs can begin to fail. The most common of these is the heart. Coronary heart disease is the number-one killer among men and women in the United States. Carotid artery disease blocks the arteries that supply blood to the brain, which can trigger strokes. Peripheral artery disease is the reduction of blood flow to the arms, legs and pelvis, causing numbness, pain and greater risk for infections.
Saturated fats most commonly come from animal sources, such as beef, dairy and eggs. They can raise your bad cholesterol, which increases your risk for heart attack, stroke and other health problems. According to MedlinePlus, a diet rich in saturated fat can increase cholesterol buildup, which can lead to clogged or blocked arteries. By replacing some of the saturated fats in your diet with unsaturated fats, you can help manage your LDL cholesterol levels.
Foods High in Saturated Fats
The Harvard School of Public Health lists the top foods that contribute to saturated fat intake overall in American diets. From highest to lowest, by percentage, they include: regular cheese, pizza, grain-based desserts, dairy desserts, chicken and mixed chicken dishes, sausage, bacon, ribs, burgers, mixed Mexican dishes, beef and mixed beef dishes, reduced-fat milk, pasta, whole milk, eggs, candy and butter. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends cutting back on these saturated fats and replacing them with healthy fats such as nuts, fatty fish, plant oils and avocados rather than foods rich in refined carbohydrates.
Trans fats, foods made from partially hydrogenated oils, are so damaging to the arteries that the Food and Drug Administration has placed restrictions on their use. The FDA no longer recognizes trans fats as safe, because they simultaneously lower good cholesterol and increase bad cholesterol, significantly increasing the risk for atherosclerosis and heart disease. FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg told HealthDay.com that the new restrictions placed on trans fats could prevent as many as 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 premature deaths per year.
Foods Containing Trans Fats
Trans fats are in many packaged foods, because they offer a number of technical advantages. The American Heart Association notes that they're easy to use, inexpensive and provide foods with a desirable taste and texture. Businesses can use them repeatedly in commercial deep fryers. In addition, trans fats act as a preserving agent in many foods. Examples of foods that may contain trans fats include pastries, crackers, cookies, biscuits, margarine and pizza dough, although almost any prepackaged food can contain trans fats.