Cholesterol and Fats

Cholesterol and Fats

Understanding cholesterol and fats is vitally important in lowering cholesterol.

Not all fats are bad.

In fact, some fats actually improve your cholesterol levels.

CLICK HERE for a Summary Table of Foods Sources associated with the 4 Basic Fat Types and its Affect on Cholesterol.

TIP: The American Heart Association recommends that consumers shop for margarine with no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon and with liquid vegetable oil as the first ingredient.

Monounsaturated fats

Monounsaturated fats are considered "good fats" because they lower bad LDL cholesterol and raise good HDL cholesterol. Common sources of monounsaturated fats include olive, canola, and peanut oil. Avocados and most nuts are high in monounsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats can be divided into two categories:

  • Omega-3 fats are found in both plant and marine foods and have been found to reduce the risk of heart disease. Food sources include soy, canola oil, flax seed, pumpkin seed, and walnut. Marine sources include oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines.

  • Omega-6 fats are found primarily in plant oils such as corn, cottonseed, and safflower.

Both omega-3 and omega-6 are considered essential fatty acids because you cannot make them in your body and must get them from your food.

Until relatively recently the foods we have eaten contained an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of about 2:1. However, over the last 50 years in North America, the ratio has changed to from 2:1 to 10-20:1 because our diet now includes huge amounts of oils that are extracted from plants and used for cooking or in prepared foods. These oils (such as corn oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil) are primarily omega-6s. We have decreased our intake of omega-3's, found primarily in whole grains, beans, seeds, and seafood.

Eating too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 may be associated with:

  • Clots and constriction of arteries that increases the risk for heart attacks

  • Increased swelling that worsen arthritis

  • Aggravation of psoriasis

  • Blocking a person's ability to respond to insulin, causing high insulin and blood sugar levels and obesity

  • Increased hormone levels of insulin like growth factor-1 that causes certain cancers.

To get your ratio on omega-6s to omega-3s back to a more healthful 2:1, eat seafood, whole grains, beans and other seeds, and reduce your intake of foods made with or cooked in vegetable oils.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats come mainly from animal fats and whole fat dairy. While saturated fats tend to raise bad LDL and raise good HDL, the net effect is negative. Therefore it is important to limit saturated fats by eating only lean meats and low fat dairy products.

Trans Fats

Trans fats are also considered a "bad fat" and is even worse for your cholesterol levels than saturated fats because they raise bad LDL and lower good HDL. It is important to elimate trans fats as much as possible from your diet.

CLICK HERE, to read about the Top 10 Trans Fats Foods.

Summary Table of 4 Basic Fat Types

Below is a table to give you a quick summary of the foods sources for the 4 basic fat types.


Type of Fat


Effect on Cholesterol Level


“good fat”

Olives, olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, cashews, almonds, peanuts, most other nuts, avocados

Lowers LDL

Raises HDL




Corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil

If omega-6/omega-3 ratio is right (2:1 is ideal):

Lowers LDL

Raises HDL



Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines), flax, flax seed oil, walnuts, pumpkin seeds


“bad fat”

Whole, milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, red meat, shellfish, egg yolks, poultry skin, chocolate, coconuts, coconut milk, coconut oil

Raises LDL

Raises HDL


“bad fat”

Most margarines, vegetable shortening, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, deep-fried chips, most fast foods, most commercial baked goods

Raises LDL




Effects of moderate-fat (from monounsaturated fat) and low-fat weight-loss diets on the serum lipid profile in overweight and obese men and women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004

The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother, 2002

Types of Dietary Fat and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Critical Review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2001

Related Links

I hope you enjoyed the cholesterol and fats page.
For answers to your FAQs on Cholesterol, CLICK HERE


This page was last updated on 09/15/06.