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What types of fats increase cholesterol?

Douglas Jacoby, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Of the different types of fat, saturated fats and trans fats are the most undesirable for you cholesterol.

Saturated fats are mostly found in meat and dairy foods, such as steak, whole milk and ice cream. To reduce your intake of saturated fats, choose lean meats and low-fat dairy products and use less butter.

Trans fats are vegetable oils that have been changed from a liquid to a solid form, such as a stick of margarine or vegetable shortening. Limit your use of stick margarines, shortenings and foods made with hydrogenated vegetable oil like candies, snack foods and prepared baked goods.
The following fats can raise your blood cholesterol:
  • Saturated fats: Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol more than anything else in the diet. It's the type of fat found in large quantities in animal products, such as fatty meats, cheeses, butter, whole milk products and other foods such as coconut, coconut oil, and palm oil.
  • Trans-fatty acids: Trans-fat can also significantly raise cholesterol levels. Trans-fatty acids are produced during the processing of margarine and vegetable shortenings. Many processed foods made with partially hydrogenated oil listed as an ingredient (i.e., some margarine, vegetable shortenings, commercially prepared cookies and crackers, fried foods, fast foods, and baked goods) contain trans-fatty acids.
The worst types of fats are saturated fats and trans fats. Both of these types of fat can raise your cholesterol and cause other health problems. So eat less of the foods that contain these fats.

Saturated fats are found in:
  • Meats like beef, pork, and fatty parts of chicken
  • Butter
  • Cream cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Ice cream
  • Cocoa butter
  • Tropical oils like coconut and palm oil
Trans fats are found in:
  • Many margarines (especially stick margarine)
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Packaged foods like chips, crackers, and cookies
  • Bakery items like doughnuts and pastries
  • Microwave and theater popcorn
  • Fried foods like French fries, fish sticks, and chicken nuggets
  • Any food with the words hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated on the label

There are two main types of harmful dietary fat, saturated fats and partially hydrogenated unsaturated trans fats.

Saturated fats enter the diet from animal sources and elevate the total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. The increase in these blood lipids increases the risk of cardiovascular disease like atherosclerosis and neuroendocrine disease like diabetes mellitus type 2. The partially hydrogenated unsaturated trans fats occur naturally in some foods from animal products, but the vast majority are synthetically made during food processing.

Through partial hydrogenation of unsaturated fats, industrial foods are made less likely to spoil and easier to incorporate into cooking than their naturally occurring oils. The partially hydrogenated unsaturated trans fats increase the "bad," low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and lower the "good," high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which increases risk of life-threatening cardiovascular disease like heart attacks or myocardial infarctions, coronary artery disease from atherosclerosis and limb ischemia from peripheral vascular disease.

These two dietary fats have a high percentage of either saturated fat or partially hydrogenated unsaturated trans fats or both saturated fat or partially hydrogenated unsaturated trans fats. The easiest way to identify the constituents of a diet that have saturated fats or partially hydrogenated unsaturated trans fats is to remember that these fats are solid at room temperature and include shortening, stick margarine, stick butter, beef fat, pork fat and bacon fat.

Four main fat groups -- monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats and trans fats -- contribute to the total cholesterol count in your blood. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is known as “bad” cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as “good” cholesterol and is essential to a heart-healthy diet.
 
LDL is the main source of artery-clogging plaque, while HDL actually works to clear cholesterol from the blood. Decreasing the amount of saturated fats and trans fats you consume will help lower LDL in the blood.

Saturated fats are mostly found in meat and dairy foods, such as steak, whole milk and ice cream. To reduce your intake of saturated fats, choose lean meats and low-fat dairy products and use less butter.

Trans fats are vegetable oils that have been changed from a liquid to a solid form, such as a stick of margarine or vegetable shortening. Limit your use of stick margarines, shortenings and foods made with hydrogenated vegetable oil like candies, snack foods and prepared baked goods.

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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.