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How Food Fats Affect Blood Results

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
May 20, 2022
2

Eating healthy seems quite intuitive. But when we try to navigate the grocery store and all the diet information out there, it can be confusing, and even conflicting. When thinking of “fats”, people often automatically link it with “unhealthy”. However, there are different types of fats that play different roles in health, and not all of them are bad. But that is not all true, anymore. Quality, closeness to nature, and amount are even bigger factors.

Here’s a quick comparison of the different food fats, how they affect your blood cholesterol levels, common food sources, and recommended daily intake.

Food Fat Types Effects on Cholesterol Food Sources Recommended Daily Amount
(Based on a 2000 calorie diet)
Trans fats ⇩ HDL
⇩ LDL
⇧ Triglycerides
⇧ Total Cholesterol
Many processed foods:
chips, cookies, donuts, cakes, fried foods
Limited to none
Saturated fats ⇩ HDL
⇧ LDL
⇧ Triglycerides
⇧ Total Cholesterol
Animal fats: butter, lard, cheese, cow’s milk, cream
Plant Fats: coconut oil, chocolate, palm oil, most processed foods
No more than 15g saturated fat per day, or no more than 7% of total calories
From the American Heart Association
Monounsaturated fats
(Omega 7, Omega 9)
⇧ HDL
⇧ LDL
⇩ Triglycerides
⇩ Total Cholesterol
Nuts and Seeds: olives, olive oil, avocados, avocado oil, almonds, peanuts, peanut butter, hazelnuts, pecans, pumpkin and sesame seeds
Vegetables: kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, blue-green algae
5 times per week
Polyunsaturated fats
(Omega 3, Omega 6)
⇧ HDL
⇩ LDL
⇩ Triglycerides
⇩ Total Cholesterol
Nuts and seeds: sunflower, corn, soybean oils, flax seeds, walnuts, hemp, and chia seeds
Seafood: salmon, tuna, halibut, oysters
Daily, with seafood 3 times per week
13-19g per day, or about 5-10% of total calories
From the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Takeaways

The general message is that cutting back on saturated fat can be good for health if people replace saturated fat with good fats, especially, polyunsaturated fats. While saturated fat may not be as harmful as once thought, unsaturated fat is still the healthiest kind.

To summarize, eating more healthy fats and less saturated fats:

  • Lowers the “bad” LDL cholesterol
  • Improves “good” HDL cholesterol while lowering bad and total cholesterol, reducing heart disease risk
  • Helps prevent insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes

Eating refined carbohydrates, like sugar and starch, likely will have the same effect as saturated fat on your cholesterol. Doing this lowers both the “bad” LDL cholesterol and the “good” HDL cholesterol, and increases triglycerides. The net effect is equally as bad for the heart as eating too much saturated fat.

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