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What should be my daily dietary cholesterol intake?

You might think the key to lowering your blood cholesterol levels is to get dietary cholesterol levels to zero. But such an approach addresses only part of the problem. Reducing your cholesterol intake does lower your risk of heart disease, but it has less impact on blood cholesterol levels than cutting back on saturated fat.

Saturated fat boosts your blood cholesterol level more than anything else in your diet. Saturated fat is found mainly in food that comes from animals, including whole-milk dairy products such as butter, cheese, milk, cream and ice cream, as well as the fat in meat and poultry skin.

A few vegetable fats -- cocoa butter, palm kernel oil and palm oil -- are also high in saturated fat. These fats may be found in cookies, crackers, coffee creamers, whipped toppings and snack foods, which also contain trans fatty acids, another form of fat that acts like saturated fat in the body. It is important to read food labels, which detail total fat, saturated and trans fat levels. Research is continuing to determine which of these fats are harmful; not all saturated fatty acids cause the same effects.

Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), found in olive and canola oil, nuts, olives and avocados, help decrease cholesterol levels and are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. MUFAs are believed to be one reason why people who follow a Mediterranean style of eating have lower cholesterol and lower risk of heart disease. The Mediterranean eating pattern has a high ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fatty acid intake. It also emphasizes vegetables, fruits and nuts, olive oil and whole grains and includes limited amounts of meats and full-fat milk and milk products.

Polyunsaturated fats, such as safflower and corn oil, and monounsaturated fats, such as olive and canola oil, may lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels slightly and raise high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. Don't try to boost your intake of these fats. Instead, concentrate on cutting back fat from all sources but with an eye toward using these "healthier" fats in place of saturated fats.

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish and soybean and canola oil, appear to lower blood levels of triglycerides. You may want to add fish to your diet at least twice a week and choose these oils over others. However, because of high levels of mercury and iodine found in fish, a daily fish-oil supplement (which is generally cleansed of these toxins) might be a better bet.
Rebecca S. Reeves
Nutrition & Dietetics
Based on the recommendations from the Adult Treatment Panel III document published by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a person should limit dietary cholesterol intake to less than 200 mg per day. Recently, scientists have placed more emphasis on reducing saturated fat and trans fat in the diet to reduce LDL cholesterol levels, which is the blood fat more highly associated with atherosclerosis.
Saturated fat is found in foods that come mainly from the fat of animals, such as meat, butter, whole milk and whole milk products. Also tropical oils contain saturated fat, such as palm, coconut and palm kernel oils.
Trans fats are formed during the process of hydrogenation. Partially hydrogenated fat containing trans fat is found in many packaged foods such as cookies, crackers and snack foods.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.