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Good Fat vs. Bad Fat

May 4, 2008
Many people believe that all fats and cholesterols should always be avoided. However, studies have shown that there are fats and cholesterols that can reduce your risk of heart disease and potentially improve your overall health. To gain an understanding of both good and bad fats, try to utilize some of the information outlined here when planning your meals.

We will begin by comparing the different types of cholesterol, HDL and LDL. As cholesterol is unable to dissolve in the blood, both HDL and LDL are carried by lipoproteins through the body's bloodstream. However, these types of cholesterol have very different effects on the body.

The Good Cholesterol - HDL

* Typically accounting for 25-33% of total blood cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as the 'good' cholesterol because it is believed that healthy levels are able to protect against heart attack. On the other hand, decreased levels of HDL are thought to increase the overall risk of heart disease. Unlike artery-clogging LDL cholesterol, HDL transports harmful cholesterol away from the heart, allowing the cholesterol to pass through the liver and out of the body.

The Bad Cholesterol - LDL

* Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) - known as the 'bad' cholesterol - is the form of cholesterol that most people are familiar with. Over time, LDL can build up along the interiors of arteries, potentially slowing the flow of blood to the heart and brain. LDL is also a primary component of the dangerous plaque deposits that narrow the arteries and can lead to heart attack or stroke. * Individuals with high levels of LDL are also known to carry increased amounts of triglycerides - a type of fat developed in the body that often accompanies high LDL levels - and Lp(a) - a variant of LDL cholesterol that hastens the development of deposits in arteries.

The levels of both good and bad cholesterol are impacted by the amount of fat in our diets. However, like cholesterol, there are both good and bad fats. Some fats can improve the health of the entire body when consumed properly, while others are known to contribute to conditions such as stroke and heart disease.

The Good Fats - Unsaturated Fats

* Monounsaturated fats are commonly found is such foods as olive oil, canola oil and avocados. As part of a healthy diet low in dangerous saturated and trans fats, monounsaturated fats can help lower blood cholesterol levels.

* Polyunsaturated fats are also found in many commonly used oils such as corn, safflower, sesame, soy and sunflower-seed oils. By working to reduce blood cholesterol levels and easing the strain on the heart, these oils and other foods like raw nuts provide health benefits similar to monounsaturated fats. Additionally, flaxseeds and cold-water fish - including albacore tuna, herring, lake trout, sardines and salmon - contain beneficial forms of polyunsaturated fats known as omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to slowing the accumulation of harmful LDL cholesterol in the arteries, omega-3s can also reduce the risk of blood clots and potentially fatal irregular heartbeats.

The Bad Fats - Saturated and Trans fats

* Saturated Fats are most commonly found in foods such as meat, cheese and butter. Additionally, palm kernel oil, coconut oil and high-fat dairy products like ice cream often contain large amounts of saturated fat. Unlike the unsaturated fats mentioned above, saturated fat is known to be dangerous for the heart; as such foods cause LDL cholesterol levels to rise.

* As a product of laboratory testing rather than nature, trans fats are developed by chemically solidifying liquid vegetable oils to improve the texture and shelf life of certain foods. Foods containing trans fats - including solid shortening, stick margarine, mass-produced products like cookies and crackers, and many fried items at fast food restaurants - are generally thought to be the most dangerous for the heart and unhealthy for the whole body. Like saturated fats, trans fats can trigger an increase in harmful LDL cholesterol levels. However, trans fats are also known to lower the body's healthy HDL cholesterol levels, resulting in an increased risk of both heart disease and stroke.

Despite the dangers of LDL cholesterol and the 'bad' fats, there are many simple ways to counteract the effects of these harmful substances. Weight loss surgery patients learn about ways to avoid these negative elements and adopt a healthy lifestyle that incorporates activities ranging from checking nutrition labels to trading in fried foods for grilled entrées. Besides the ability to lose weight by avoiding saturated and trans fats, individuals can also lessen their risk of heart attack and stroke over time by maintaining a healthy diet.

Just remember that not all fats and cholesterols are bad. In fact, with the proper understanding of what you eat, you can use the 'good' fats and cholesterols to your healthy advantage.
About the Author
Carole S. Guinane, a Chief Clinical Officer writes articles about obesity and weight loss for New Hope Today.
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