Fat And Cholesterol: Everything You Need To Know

Written by - Reviewed by Consumer Health Digest Team

Published: Dec 6, 2013 | Last Updated: Jun 6, 2018

Fat and Cholesterol

Let’s face it. The typical American meal is loaded with trans fat, saturated fat, and unhealthy cholesterol. It’s in the meat, lard, and oil, used in most fast food meals. It’s in most baked goods, pastries, and many processed foods.

And simple blood test can tell you your cholesterol levels and triglyceride (blood fat) levels. Both are important indicators health professionals monitor to determine your risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

The Truth About cholesterol and fat

Not all fats are bad and not all cholesterol is bad. In fact there are many healthy fats and sources of good (HDL) cholesterol that help prevent fat deposits from blocking your arteries that can cause a heart attack or stroke, or require major surgery.

What is The Role of Fat in the Diet?

Fat is one of the energy sources your body uses to provide the energy you need. Most plant foods and animals contain some fat. Your body also uses fat to help you grow, and your muscle tissues contain some fat. Without adequate fat in your diet, you’ll lack energy and your skin and tissues may lack essential nutrients only available from fats.

What are Essential Fatty Acids?

Essential fatty acids are healthy fats typically found in fish, nuts and seeds, and healthy oils. Omega 3 fatty acids support organ function and cell activity. Omega 6 fatty acids also found in healthy oils, some nuts and seeds, and chicken, promote healthy skin, help fight cancer, and reduce the symptoms of arthritis.

Healthier Fats

The Institute of Medicine recommends consuming 20 to 35 percent of your total calories from fat. Most adults should consume 1,600 to 2,300 calories a day for weight management.

To figure out how many grams of fat this is, first calculate the total number of calories you should consume in a day and the percentage that should come from fat. Then divide by nine (1 gram of fat contains 9 calories. To keep it simple, if you were following a 1,600-calorie diet, you should consume no more than 36 to 62 grams of fat per day.

Healthy fats found in rich supply in fish, nuts, seeds, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and certain fat loss foods like avocados, help protect your health and your heart. In fact, in the PREDIMED study, researchers found that regular consumption of olive oil and nuts reduced the risk for heart attack and stroke by 30 percent, compared to people who don’t consume healthy fats regularly.

Unhealthy Fats

If you consume a lot of unhealthy fats, from red meats and processed foods, you significantly increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. Unhealthy fats contribute to weight gain that can accumulate on your abdomen, hips, thighs, and buttocks. And can lead to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, sleep apnea, joint pain, and organ damage. The most dangerous kind of fat, known as visceral fat can accumulate in and around your organs and lead to serious health problems.

High triglyceride levels (fat in the blood) can also make your blood thicker and raise your blood pressure, which can damage your heart. Your triglyceride levels should be below 100 mg/dL for optimal health. Lifestyle changes, weight loss, exercise, and a healthy diet can help reduce triglyceride levels, along with medication.

What About Cholesterol?

Your body naturally produces cholesterol. In fact, if it were possible, you could adopt a cholesterol-free diet without any adverse side effects. But it’s not really possible to be cholesterol-free based on the foods we eat today. Your body uses cholesterol to help transport and store fat used for energy. But too much bad cholesterol can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Role of Cholesterol in The Diet

Role of Cholesterol in The Diet

Good cholesterol, also called HDL cholesterol, helps remove bad cholesterol from your body. Higher HDL cholesterol levels reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. You can improve your HDL cholesterol levels by eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and fish.

When your doctor checks your good or HDL cholesterol levels, it should be above 50 mg/dL for women and 60 mg/dL for men. If HDL cholesterol levels are lower than this, the risk for heart disease and stroke increases, according to the American Heart Association.

What Happens if you Have High Cholesterol Levels?

If you have high cholesterol levels, this usually refers to bad or LDL cholesterol. An estimated one in three adults have elevated levels of bad cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your LDL cholesterol level should be below 100 mg/dL for optimal health. If your LDL cholesterol level is higher, you’re at an increased risk for developing cholesterol deposits that block blood flow.

This can lead to a heart attack, or if the fatty deposit reaches your brain can cause a stroke. If you have high cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, and encourage you to lose weight, eat a healthier diet and get regular exercise.

How Much Cholesterol Should You Consume?

Most people should consume no more than 200 mg of cholesterol a day, according to the National Cholesterol Education Program. But most people consume close to double or more than that amount of cholesterol.

Increased consumption of cholesterol through food sources is one of the primary reasons heart disease and stroke claim the lives of an estimated 730,000 Americans each year. If you limit the amount of eggs, red meat, and processed foods you eat, you can reduce the amount of cholesterol you consume.


Your body needs healthy fats and cholesterol to function properly. The best way to regulate consumption of healthy fats and cholesterol is by following an eating plan that includes fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish and lean meats, and whole grains. If you consume unhealthy fats or foods with bad cholesterol, you significantly increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

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