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Our understanding of cholesterol has evolved over time. Dr. Kimberly Skelding explains what we know about good and bad cholesterol and how doctors evaluate their importance.
A low-cholesterol diet is indeed one part of preventing heart disease. That's why the American Heart Association
recommends that people with heart disease limit cholesterol intake to 200 milligrams or less per day.
But following a low-cholesterol diet does not necessarily prevent heart disease. One reason is because your age, gender, weight and physical activity affect your heart disease risk, sometimes despite your dietary habits.
But there's another reason a low-cholesterol diet is often not enough to prevent heart disease: Saturated fat raises "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol even more than dietary cholesterol does, and this increases the risk of heart disease by promoting atherosclerosis (clogging of your arteries). Trans-fat, which is mainly found in processed foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oil, also increases LDL cholesterol and, therefore, increases the risk of heart disease.
Only animal products have cholesterol, such as meat and dairy products. Generally, foods high in cholesterol tend to also be high in saturated fat. But some plant-based products — margarine, fried foods and commercial baked goods — can also be very high in saturated fat and trans-fat. These plant-based foods are just as bad, if not worse for you, than some foods containing cholesterol. For example, shellfish contains cholesterol, but is very low in saturated fat and trans-fat.
Limiting Cholesterol, Saturated Fat & Trans-Fat
So, for most people, it is a good idea to limit cholesterol but an even better idea is to also limit saturated fat and trans-fat in your diet. Here are some suggestions:
- Limit fast foods and processed foods.
- For beef, choose eye of round, top round roast, top sirloin and flank.
- For pork, choose tenderloin and loin chops.
- For dairy, choose nonfat or 1-percent low-fat products.