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Dietary Fat and Cholesterol Levels

by Eleanor Mayfield

Many people are confused about the effect of dietary fats on cholesterol levels. At first glance, it seems reasonable to think that eating less cholesterol would reduce a person's cholesterol level.

In fact, eating less cholesterol has less effect on blood cholesterol levels than eating less saturated fat. However, some studies have found that eating cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease even if it doesn't increase blood cholesterol levels.

Another misconception is that people can improve their cholesterol numbers by eating "good" cholesterol. In food, all cholesterol is the same. In the blood, whether cholesterol is "good" or "bad" depends on the type of lipoprotein that's carrying it.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats do not promote the formation ofartery-clogging fatty deposits the way saturated fats do. Some studies show that eating foods that contain these fats can reduce levels of LDL-cholesterol in the blood. Polyunsaturated fats, such as safflower and corn oil, tend to lower both HDL- and LDL-cholesterol. Edible oils rich in monounsaturated fats, such as olive and canola oil, however, tend to lower LDL-cholesterol without affecting HDL levels. Government Advice

Dietary guidelines endorsed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advise consumers to:

  • Reduce total dietary fat intake to 30 percent or less of total calories.
  • Reduce saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of calories.
  • Reduce cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams daily.
  1. Food and Drug Administration Publication No. (FDA) 99-2286
  2. Food and Drug Administration Publication No. (FDA) 99-2286
  3. Food and Drug Administration Publication No. (FDA) 99-2286

Eleanor Mayfield is a writer for the F.D.A.


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