Dietary cholesterol can also add up quickly. Cholesterol is only found in foods that come from animals, such as meat, poultry, egg yolks, butter, and cheese, and is usually found in the same places as saturated fat. If you reduce your intake of saturated fat to no more than 7% of your total calories, you will probably reduce your dietary cholesterol intake to goal level as well.
Many people wonder if they should avoid foods such as eggs and shellfish altogether, because one serving of them may exceed daily cholesterol recommendations. Although these foods are higher in cholesterol than others, they are lower in saturated fat than other sources of animal protein. That means they can be part of a sensible meal plan if you consume small portions. For example, by choosing one small or medium egg, with 157 or 187 mg of cholesterol, respectively, you can stay within daily upper intake limits. But remember to balance the dietary cholesterol in that egg with the other foods that you eat. For example, don’t use butter to cook the egg (use a nonstick spray instead, or have it boiled or poached instead of fried), and have vegetarian meals for lunch and dinner. Alternatively, you could have just the egg whites and avoid any cholesterol whatsoever.
Trans fat is another type of fat to avoid. Trans fat is generally produced by hydrogenation of vegetable oils, although some is found naturally in animal fats. Hydrogenation increases the shelf life and flavor stability of many processed foods — for instance, shortening, some margarines, and fried foods. Other major sources of trans fat include foods made with partially hydrogenated oils such as certain crackers, cookies, doughnuts, and fast foods. The problem with trans fat is that it can both raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol levels.
As of January 1, 2006, the Food and Drug Administration requires that the amount of trans fat in a serving of food be listed on a separate line under saturated fat in the Nutrition Facts panel. However, foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving can claim 0 grams of trans fat on the label. So it’s also important to look for partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list. If they’re there, the product contains at least a small amount of trans fat.
Reducing the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol in your diet does not mean that you should follow an extremely low-fat diet. On the contrary, for persons with the metabolic syndrome, lipid disorders, and/or diabetes, total fat should make up 30% to 35% of total calories. In addition, saturated fat and trans fat should be replaced with monounsaturated fat (up to 20% of calories) and polyunsaturated fat (up to 10% of total calories). Evidence suggests that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat is more effective in lowering the risk of coronary heart disease than reducing total fat consumption.
The two types of unsaturated fat in the diet — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated — are found in a variety of foods. Monounsaturated fat is found in avocados, almonds, olives, peanuts, and olive, peanut, and canola oils. Polyunsaturated fat can be divided into two groups: omega-6 polyunsaturated fat, which is found mainly in seeds and vegetable oils such as corn and soy oils, and omega-3 polyunsaturated fat, which is found in fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts. Consuming omega-3 fatty acids from fish and plant sources may lower your risk of coronary heart disease.
Replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat can be as simple as putting avocado on your sandwich instead of cheese, having nuts for a snack instead of chips or baked goods, and using salad dressing made with olive oil or canola oil instead of using a creamy salad dressing.