Obesity is a well-documented health crisis in America. Recent statistics show that 30 percent of U.S. adults are obese – this translates to more than 60 million Americans! Obesity impacts more than just your pant size – it also increases your risk of many chronic diseases including heart disease, which accounts for one million deaths in the United States each year.
Obesity not only increases your risk for heart disease, it also increases your risk for the risk factors associated with heart disease, including high cholesterol. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a "heart healthy" diet to help keep blood cholesterol low and decrease your risk of developing heart disease. A heart healthy diet recommends:
- 30 percent of your total daily calories come from fat
- 8 to 10 percent of your total daily calories come from saturated fat
- Less than 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol per day
- 2400 milligrams of sodium per day
- Adequate calories to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
While a heart healthy diet recommends limiting dietary cholesterol, some researchers assert that dietary fat is a larger factor in your body's cholesterol levels because it can increase your total cholesterol and LDL levels. There are two types of cholesterol: HDL and LDL. A high level of HDL decreases your risk of heart disease while a high level of LDL increases the risk of heart disease. To put it simply, you want high levels of HDL and low levels of LDL. To distinguish between the two types of cholesterol, I find it helpful to refer to HDL as "healthy cholesterol" and LDL as "lousy cholesterol."
The AHA recommends that we limit saturated fat to 8 to 10 percent of our total daily calories because these fats can increase both your total and your LDL cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are found in meat, poultry, full-fat dairy products and tropical oils. Other sources of saturated fat include:
- Meat fat
- Dairy products made from whole milk
- Chicken and turkey skins
- Palm and palm kernel oils
- Coconut oil
- Cocoa butter
Trans fat, once considered to be a healthy substitute for saturated fat, has been found to raise cholesterol levels and has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Trans fat is created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, which is a liquid, to create a solid substance. It can be found in foods such as vegetable shortening, some margarines, crackers, candies, baked goods, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, salad dressings and many processed foods. To determine whether a food item you are eating contains trans fat look for the following ingredients on the food label:
- Hydrogenated vegetable oil
- Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
Many people assume that because a heart healthy diet recommends limiting fat, that all types of dietary fat are bad for your heart. However, quite the opposite is true. Unsaturated fatty acids have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Monounsaturated fats reduce total cholesterol levels while maintaining your HDL levels. The AHA recommends that 10 to 15 percent of our total daily calories come from monounsaturated fats. They can be found in the following vegetable oils:
- Canola oil
- Olive oil
- Peanut oil
Polyunsaturated fats also help to reduce total cholesterol levels; however, they also lower your HDL levels. The AHA recommends that we get no more than 10 percent of our total daily calories from polyunsaturated fats. This type of fat is found in nuts and vegetable oils. Sources of polyunsaturated fats include:
- Corn oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Safflower oil
- Sesame oil
- Soybean oil
- Sunflower oil