Fat vs. Cholesterol

by Kathryn Gilhuly

About Kathryn Gilhuly

Kathryn Gilhuly is a wellness coach based in San Diego. She helps doctors, nurses and other professionals implement lifestyle changes that focus on a healthy diet and exercise. Gilhuly holds a Master of Science in health, nutrition and exercise from North Dakota State University.

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You may find yourself confused about fats and cholesterol -- how to separate healthy from unhealthy fats, the difference between good and bad cholesterol and what triglycerides, lipoprotein and lipids are. But it can be vital to your longevity to better understand the connection between fats, cholesterol and your health.

Cholesterol Identification

Cholesterol naturally occurs in your body and helps your body function properly. Too much of the wrong type of cholesterol in your body, though, can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Your total cholesterol includes low-density lipoprotein -- LDL -- and high-density lipoprotein -- HDL -- cholesterol. LDL, which is usually referred to as bad cholesterol, can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. HDL cholesterol, the good type of cholesterol, can help prevent the buildup of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, a third type of lipid in your bloodstream that acts similarly to LDL cholesterol.

Types of Fat

There are four types of fat: trans fats, saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. The types of fat you eat can help or harm your cholesterol levels. Trans fats, found in margarine and shortening, and saturated fats, found in animal products such as meat and dairy, can increase your LDL cholesterol and risk of disease. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, found in olive oil, nuts and seeds, may lower your cholesterol levels. Your triglycerides are affected by your weight and the amount of sugar and alcohol you consume. You can raise your healthy HDL cholesterol through exercise.

Making the Right Choices

When cooking, choose vegetable oil or olive oil over butter. Keep trans fats to a minimum by limiting processed foods and some commercial baked goods. Lean poultry contains less saturated fat than steak or bacon. You can also opt for vegetable protein -- soy, legumes and kidney beans, for instance -- to obtain protein without taking in saturated fats. Your fat intake each day should not exceed 35 percent of your total food intake.

Considerations

While the type and amount of fat you eat affects the level of cholesterol in your bloodstream, other foods play a role in determining the amount of cholesterol in your system. Foods rich in soluble fiber -- oatmeal and apples, for instance -- help remove cholesterol from your system. A sedentary lifestyle keeps your body from producing enough good cholesterol, but something as simple as taking a daily walk can help. If diet and exercise don't reduce your cholesterol, you may need to take medication. Frequent monitoring of your cholesterol levels -- achieved with a simple blood test -- can help you measure the effectiveness of your efforts.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.