Chew on This

Trans and saturated fats are more important than cholesterol

Cholesterol can be confusing.

There is good and bad cholesterol in the blood, only one type of cholesterol in food and no cholesterol in certain products, such as coconut oil, that are high in saturated fat. So before explaining the recent cholesterol change set forth by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), here is a quick cholesterol review.

The liver produces about 75 percent of the body’s cholesterol. Cholesterol has many functions but two important ones are to make hormones and vitamin D. Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream in small molecules called lipoproteins. HDL is the good cholesterol lipoprotein that carries cholesterol back to the liver for removal. LDL is the bad cholesterol in the body that contributes to the buildup of plaque in arteries. Too much plaque contributes to cardiovascular disease.

Cholesterol is found only in foods of animal origin such as meats, dairy, fish and poultry. No matter how creamy the avocado, nuts or coconut oil, there is no cholesterol in those foods. This does not mean the foods do not contain fat, but there is no cholesterol.

Trans fats and saturated fats are what cause your blood cholesterol to rise. Dietitians, knowing this for years, have spent a lot of time convincing clients that it is OK to eat eggs, shrimp and lobster.

And our job just got easier. Cholesterol in food no longer needs to be a nutrient of concern is how the advisory group worded this welcome change. So 3 ounces of shrimp with 179 milligrams of cholesterol, but only .44 grams of saturated fat, is welcome into a stir fry. An egg with 186 milligrams of cholesterol but only 1.6 grams of saturated fat is back on the breakfast table.

The committee concludes that a healthy diet consists of eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low or nonfat dairy, seafood, legumes and nuts. Alcohol should be used moderately, and eat only scant amounts of red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.