Cholesterol and Cooking: Fats and Oils

Cholesterol and Cooking: Fats and Oils

For low-cholesterol cooking, use the right fats in the right amounts.

When you're cooking to lower cholesterol, you might think that fat is a four-letter word.  But nutrition experts say that ridding your cooking of all fats and oils may actually work against efforts to lower your blood cholesterol levels.  When it comes to fat, what counts are both quality and quantity.

Why You Need Fat

It would seem to make sense to drastically cut back on fat intake to lower your cholesterol.  After all, dietary fat is connected to cholesterol concentrations in the blood, which are linked to your risk of heart disease and stroke.  Yet, experts say, taking such a Spartan approach to eating will surely backfire.
"It's the worst thing you can do -- for your heart and overall health," says Janice Bissex, MS, RD, co-author of The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers. "Slashing fat is unhealthy, and it's unlikely that you'll stick with an eating plan that lacks the fat you require."
Bissex says fats and oils provide essential fatty acids for well-being, and some -- namely omega-3 fatty acids -- are actually good for your heart. Fat transports vitamins A, D, E, and K into and around the body, and it also provides calories -- 9 per gram.
In addition, fat adds to eating satisfaction because it's filling and tasty. The olive oil in Mediterranean fare, the butter in cookies, and the peanut oil that seasons stir-fried dishes helps make those foods worth eating.

Best Fats and Oils for Low-Cholesterol Cooking

To curb cholesterol levels, it's important to limit fat intake without going to extremes. It's also important to choose the right fats and oils for preparing meals and snacks. 
The fat found in butter, margarine, soft spreads, and vegetable oils is considered either good (unsaturated) or bad (saturated and trans fat).
Unsaturated fats -- monounsaturated and polyunsaturated -- are deemed beneficial because they prevent clogged arteries that block the flow of blood to the heart and brain. Unsaturated fats should be the main types used in food preparation.
Monounsaturated fat is the primary type found in olive, canola, and sesame oils, as well as in avocados and avocado oil, and in nuts and their oils. Polyunsaturated fat is prevalent in corn, cottonseed, and safflower oils; sunflower seeds and sunflower oil; flaxseed and flaxseed oil; soybeans and soybean oil; tub margarine and soft spreads; and seafood.
Saturated fat increases the risk of blocked blood vessels. It's prevalent in fatty meats, and in full-fat dairy foods including butter, cheese, ice cream, and whole milk, all of which also contain significant dietary cholesterol.  Coconut oil, palm, palm kernel oil, and cocoa butter supply large amounts of saturated fat, too, but are cholesterol-free.
Your body makes all the saturated fat and cholesterol it requires, so you don't need to eat any.  You also don't need any trans fat, which, like saturated fat, increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Trans fat is found in stick margarine, some tub margarine, and in shortening, as well as in some processed foods such as cookies, crackers, and pastry. Cooking oils do not contain trans fat.

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