High Cholesterol Levels and the Trans Fat Connection
Why eating this specific kind of fat will lead to high cholesterol
Most people know by now that certain fats, particularly omega-3 fats, are great for your cardiovascular health. That’s why my Pan-Asian Mediterranean (PAM) diet, which is rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats, is ideal for anyone with cardiovascular concerns, particularly high cholesterol.
But there is one particular kind of fat that everyone—especially those with cholesterol problems—should avoid like the plague: trans fats. That’s because trans fats not only increase your LDL cholesterol, but they decrease your healthy HDL cholesterol.
In the simplest terms, trans fats are created when hydrogen is added to (or “bubbled” into) polyunsaturated oils (such as vegetable oil). Food manufacturers use these man-made, partially hydrogenated fats to prolong the shelf life of packaged products.
Foods that often contain partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats include:
- Margarine and shortening
- Most pre-packaged baked goods
- Frozen products such as fish sticks and French fries
- Microwave popcorn
- Commercial salad dressings
- Pancake mixes
- Many fried foods
The Impact of Trans Fats on Cholesterol Levels
These unnatural oils are associated with increased free-radical activity, which in turn can promote LDL cholesterol oxidation, lower healthy HDL cholesterol levels, and raise Lp(a), which is the most dangerous type of LDL cholesterol. Studies have even shown that when the consumption of trans fat in the diet increases, LDL cholesterol particles decrease significantly in size, which makes them much more of a health risk. (Having mostly small, dense LDL cholesterol particles puts you at a higher risk for heart disease than if your LDL cholesterol is mostly the larger, more buoyant type of particles.)
Trans fats also interfere with your body’s ability to process and use essential fatty acids that help promote heart health.
Dietary guidelines tell us that no more than 1 percent of your caloric intake should come from trans fats. For example, if you consume 2,000 calories a day, no more than 20 calories, or approximately 2 grams, should come from trans fats. A report from a National Academy of Sciences panel, however, concluded that “the only safe intake of trans fat is zero.”
Scouting Out Trans Fats in Foods
To do a really thorough job of evaluating the amount of trans fat in a food, you need to go beyond the trans fat content listing on the product label or nutritional facts sheets offered by some restaurants. That’s because food manufacturers do not have to list the amount of trans fat a product contains if it is less than 0.5 gram per serving. So you also need to look at the list of a product’s ingredients to see if it contains “shortening” or “partially hydrogenated” oils, which are the unhealthy oils that ultimately create trans fats.
More Dr. Sinatra Advice on Lowering Cholesterol Through Diet
Want an easy way to get more cholesterol-lowering fiber into your diet? Discover how juicing can help lower your cholesterol levels.
Which specific foods can help lower your cholesterol levels? Read about the foods that will improve your cholesterol levels the most.
What three simple dietary changes can you make to lower your cholesterol levels? Learn three ways to change your daily eating that will lower your cholesterol in just four weeks.
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Meet Dr. Sinatra
Dr. Stephen Sinatra is a highly respected and sought-after cardiologist and nutritionist with more than 30 years of clinical practice, research, and study. His integrative approach to heart health focuses on reducing inflammation in the body and maximizing the heart's ability to produce and use energy. More About Dr. Sinatra
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