The Skinny on Fats

Food Matters

What you eat can affect your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. Knowing which fats raise LDL cholesterol and which ones don’t is the first step in lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke. Your body naturally produces all the LDL cholesterol you need. Eating foods containing saturated fat and trans fat causes your body to produce even more, raising your blood cholesterol level.

To reduce your risk for heart disease, cut back on saturated fat and trans fat by replacing some foods high in saturated fat with unsaturated fat or oils

What’s the difference between fats?


Imagine a building made of solid bricks. This building of bricks is similar to the tightly packed bonds that make “saturated” fat. The bonds are often solid at room temperature like butter or the fat inside or around meat. Saturated fats are most often found in animal products such as beef, pork, and chicken. Leaner animal products, such as chicken breast or pork loin, often have less saturated fat. Foods that contain more saturated fat are usually solid at room temperature and are sometimes called “solid” fat.


Now, imagine the links in a chain that bend, move, and flow. The chain links are similar to the loose bonds that make “unsaturated” fat fluid or liquid at room temperature like the oil on top of a salad dressing or in a can of tuna. Unsaturated fat typically comes from plant sources such as olives, nuts, or seeds – but unsaturated fat is also present in fish. Unsaturated fats are usually called oils.


**A few food products such as coconut oil, palm oils, and whole milk stay liquid at room temperature but are high in saturated fat. **


Trans fat can be made from vegetable oils through a process called hydrogenation. Trans fat is naturally found in small amounts in some animal products such as meat, whole milk, and milk products. Check the food label to find out if trans fat is in your food choices. Trans fat can often be found in many cakes, cookies, crackers, icings, margarines, and microwave popcorn.

Limit Saturated and Trans Fat 

Eating more unsaturated fat than saturated and trans fats can reduce your risk of heart disease and improve “good” (HDL) cholesterol levels. Replace foods high in saturated and trans fat such as butter, whole milk, and baked goods with foods higher in unsaturated fat found in plants and fish, such as vegetable oils, avocado, and tuna fish.

Do I still need to watch my cholesterol intake?

While the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines do not put a limit on eating cholesterol – it is still important to consider when building a healthy eating style. The Dietary Guidelines recommend that people should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible. In general, foods that are higher in dietary cholesterol are also higher in saturated fat.

Thanks to the AHA and USDA for this helpful information