Diet is a complex topic, and of course, it is only part of the treatment plan for lowering one’s cholesterol. There are foods to increase (fiber, fruits, vegetables and fish) in the diet and things to decrease in the diet (saturated fat and trans fat) to facilitate cholesterol reduction.
Many foods contain saturated fat such as butter, solid fat on meat, chicken skin and whole dairy products. Typically, we (dietitians) recommend limiting butter, using lean meat and low-fat dairy. I still make those recommendations, however, the saturated fat in those products is not all bad.
You see, these foods provide nutrients like protein, iron, calcium and zinc. So, yes, it is still good to limit saturated fat from these foods but it's even more important to limit saturated fats in the diet that come from foods devoid of nutrients. Cookies, cakes, pies and other baked goods can supply up to 50 percent of a person’s saturated fat recommendation while providing little to no nutrition.
Even those foods don’t have to be completely avoided. But limit them and read the label so you know what you are getting. Even I get surprised when I check labels.
The next food or nutrient to limit is tans fat. Trans fat is created when hydrogen is added to liquid oil to make it more solid and shelf stable. Trans fat is actually considered worse than saturated fat as it can raise your LDL (bad cholesterol) AND lower your HDL (your good cholesterol).
What foods contain trans fat? They are found in some margarines and snack foods like chips, crackers and baked goods. The good news is that trans fat is now on the label so we can easily identify foods with trans fat (just read the label).
In actuality, this works fine as long as a food has over 0.5g trans fat per serving. If it has less than 0.5 grams, the label can still list “0” trans fat.
Now, you may ask yourself, “Why worry about such a small amount of trans fat?” I agree and try not to get too caught up in small details; however, this is one place where the details do add up.
Consider this: The recommended amount of trans fat is less than 1 percent of the total calories in our diet (about 2g/day). Well that is not many grams of trans fat. Consider that many times we eat more than “one serving” of a food so let’s say you eat 1.5 servings of two separate “0” trans fat foods -- in this example you can possibly consume over half your daily trans fat intake with foods that claim “0” trans fat on the label.
What is a smart shopper to do? Be aware. Remember most of our trans fats come from snacks and processed foods. Continue to read the label for “0” trans fat but also scan the ingredient list for the words “partially-hydrogenated oil." If you find a food containing partially hydrogenated oil, it contains trans fat. Then, look for a replacement product without the trans fat. This should help you reduce your trans fat and hopefully make an impact in your blood cholesterol levels.