Some dietary fat is important for our health but it largely depends on the type because not all fats are the same. Lipids are our major storage form of energy in the form of triglycerides in adipose tissue. Lipids are a vital constituent of cell membrane and are mediators of cell signaling. We also need healthy fats to absorb our fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. We should aim for about 20-35% of our total calories from fat – but from the good stuff!
What to avoid:
Saturated fats in the diet raise LDL cholesterol which can put you at greater risk for heart attack or stroke. These fats are found in animal products like high fat cuts of meat, high fat dairy products and butter. They should be limited to less than 6% of our daily caloric intake. Trans fats should be avoided at all costs because they not only raise your LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) but they can also lower our good cholesterol (HDL). These are less commonly seen in foods today but you can still find trace amounts in shortenings, some margarines, fried foods, and packaged goods like crackers and cookies.
The good stuff:
Plant-based fats at the most beneficial for our health. Eating unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats can help lower LDL cholesterol. Some healthy oils include canola, olive, safflower, sesame or sunflower. Omega- 3 fats from fatty fish, walnuts and flaxseeds, are particularly beneficial in the diet intimately linked to heart heath, cognition, memory retention and anti-inflammation. One thing to remember is that fat has twice as many calories as proteins or carbohydrates (9 calories per gram) so you want to be mindful about portioning.
How much do we need:
LDL and HDL are major lipoproteins in our circulation. High serum LDL cholesterol is associated with increased risk of coronary artery disease. A pharmalogical reduction in LDL is associated wtih decreased risk of major coronary events. Thankfully diet and lifestyle has a impact on these levels.
A cholesterol level less than 200 mg/dL puts you at lower risk for coronary heart disease. HDL cholesterol at 60 mg/dL or above is considered protective against heart disease. For LDL we want to aim for less than 100 mg/dL.
Lifestyle modifications for decreased coronary heart disease risk:
Diet and lifestyle have a huge impact on our lipid panel. We should aim for less than 6% of our daily calories from saturated fat, less than 200 mg of cholesterol per day and a soluble fiber intake of 10-25 grams per day. Weight management is also effective, as is regular physical activity.