Eat Fat for Better Cholesterol?

Good Fat, Bad Fat

The fats in your diet can help -- or harm -- your cholesterol level.

1 / 9 Eat Fat for Better Cholesterol?

If you're thinking of a cholesterol-smart diet, fat isn't a bad word, explain Marc Gillinov, MD, and Steven Nissen, MD, authors of Heart 411: The Only Guide to Heart Health You'll Ever Need (Three Rivers Press). "The idea that fat is bad for your heart is simply incorrect." What matters is the type of fat that's on your plate. Good fat—unsaturated fat—can help lower your total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels and boost your HDL ("good") cholesterol.

Best Fat: Monounsaturated

2 / 9 Best Fat: Monounsaturated

When it comes to heart health, monounsaturated fat is the best fat. It helps lower your total and LDL cholesterol levels and boosts HDL cholesterol. In a Canadian study, volunteers who replaced 13% of carbohydrates with monounsaturated fat lowered their LDL cholesterol by 35% and improved their HDL cholesterol by 12.5% in just 4 weeks. Smart sources of monounsaturated fat include olive oil, canola oil, nuts and nut oils, avocados, and sesame oil.

Example Best Fat: Olive Oil

3 / 9 Example Best Fat: Olive Oil

Olive oil is an amazing elixir for your heart health. "It's associated with decreases in triglyceride levels, inflammation and blood clotting, and better blood vessel function," Drs. Gillinov and Nissen note. In particular, extra-virgin olive oil may increase good-guy HDL cholesterol while lowering harmful LDL.

Good Fat: Polyunsaturated

4 / 9 Good Fat: Polyunsaturated

In the hierarchy of fat, polyunsaturated fats aren't quite as potent for heart health as monounsaturated fats, but they're still powerful in helping manage your cholesterol. Fatty fish, such as sardines and salmon, are your best bet, Gillinov and Nissen say. They also recommend walnuts, flaxseeds and canola oil as good sources.

Example Good Fat: Fish

5 / 9 Example Good Fat: Fish

Fish are an outstanding source of polyunsaturated fats, say Gillinov and Nissen. Why? Coldwater fish, including salmon, sardines, halibut, and tuna, are rich in the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenioc acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA may help lower nasty triglycerides, raise HDL cholesterol, prevent blood clots, tame inflammation and make your blood vessels function better.

Bad Fat: Saturated

6 / 9 Bad Fat: Saturated

Want to lower your cholesterol? Watch out for saturated fat. Skip red meat, butter and other full-fat dairy products, coconut oil, palm oil, and shortening. Go easy on whole eggs, too. Too much saturated fat drives up total cholesterol and artery-clogging LDL cholesterol. Keep saturated fat to a minimum—no more than 7% of your daily calories. That's 11 to 14 g for women and 14 to 17 g for men. "Most Americans eat nearly twice this amount," Gillinov and Nissen say. So replace those saturated fats with healthier options.

Example Bad Fat: Bacon

7 / 9 Example Bad Fat: Bacon

Processed meats—bacon, pastrami and the like—are as high in saturated fat as other types of red meat, and that's bad for your cholesterol. It's also high in sodium, which can boost your blood pressure, and nitrates, which may mess with your body's glucose tolerance and raise your risk of heart disease and diabetes. What's the harm? The equivalent of a couple of slices of deli meat or a hot dog a day is linked to a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% greater risk of diabetes.

Worst Fat: Trans Fats

8 / 9 Worst Fat: Trans Fats

Trans fat is created when a liquid fat is infused with hydrogen and becomes solid at room temperature so it has a long shelf life. That's why you'll find it in processed food—everything from commercial baked goods, stick margarine and shortening to run-of-the-mill fast food. These bad-guy fats increase triglycerides, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, and decrease HDL cholesterol. "There's no safe quantity of trans fats," Gillinov and Nissen advise. "Our recommended intake is as close to zero as you can get."

Beware of "Zero" Trans Fat

9 / 9 Beware of "Zero" Trans Fat

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially banned trans fats from processed foods in 2015, giving food manufacturers three years to comply. In the meantime, watch out for this catch: "Foods may be listed as 'zero trans fats' if they contain less than 500 mg of trans fat per serving," Gillinov and Nissen warn. Even that small quantity of trans fat might be bad for your heart. Their advice: If a food's ingredient list includes "partially hydrogenated vegetable oils," you know it has trans fat even if the Nutrition Facts claim otherwise.


At 9 calories per gram, fats can add up quickly in your diet, yet experts recommend that you get only 7% of your calorie intake from fat. Fats also affect your cholesterol, and there are both good and bad fats. The best kind of fa...

ts are called unsaturated fats, and can be found in oils like olive and canola oils, nuts and seeds. These fats can help your body get rid of cholesterol. Saturated fats often have had hydrogen added to them to make them more solid. Other saturated fats are found in cream, butter and meats. They can raise your blood cholesterol. Its wise to learn which is which and check nutrition labels to make proper choices.