Dietary Fat and Cholesterol

Dr. Kang Health Pro
  • I was just reading the June 26th edition of Time Magazine and getting ready to learn all about how India is the next great economic superpower when a small article on page 16 caught my attention. It was entitled “KFC’s Big Fat Problem”. The article was about how Kentucky Fried Chicken, the home of the Colonel’s secret recipe, was being sued for frying its chicken in cooking oils which contain trans fats. More importantly, the extra crispy, which is my personal favorite, may also taste better when fried in this oil but not surprisingly can be bad for your cholesterol levels. Since I haven’t eaten at a KFC in about year but ironically had a strong craving for some of their chicken after reading this article, I thought I’d share with you some thoughts about the relationship between dietary fat and cholesterol. I hope you find this discussion to be informative and to be helpful in making good food decisions. I know that I found it to be a good reminder of the importance of a healthy diet, and it made my snack of lowfat yogurt taste that much better, although maybe not as good as a piece of the Colonel’s chicken.
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    In the past two decades, much focus has been placed on reducing the amount of total fat in today’s diet as a means of reducing health risk. Traditionally, it has been assumed that a reduction in dietary fat would translate into a direct reduction in the risk of heart disease mainly through a reduction in total cholesterol. After all, high cholesterol is known to be a strong risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, and death. Interestingly, the scientific evidence to support such a direct cause and effect of dietary fat is weak. For example, the people of Japan and the island of Crete are known to have some of the lowest incidences of heart disease in the world. The Japanese have a diet that is very low in total dietary fat. However, the people of Crete have a diet that is very high in dietary fat, comprised mainly of vegetable fats (olive oil). How can these two populations whose diets are so radically different with regards to fat intake have similar cholesterol profiles and low rates of heart disease? The answer lies in not so much as to how much fat they are eating, but as to what type of fat they are eating.

    Complicating this issue of dietary fat is the response of the food industry. Motivated by a growing consumer demand for lower fat foods, manufacturers have developed a whole new generation of non-fat, low fat, or reduced fat food versions of their normal product lines (ie. WOW potato chips). Although their intent may have been to provide a healthier food alternative to the general public while increasing overall profit margins (I’ll let you decide which was their primary motivation), industry may have inadvertently contributed to worsening the cholesterol profiles and increasing overall risk of some consumers. Fat substitutes are generally made from carbohydrates, proteins, different types of fat, and various combinations of these components. If one can adhere to a relative stable diet pattern while substituting usual foods for the reduced fat items, cholesterol profiles can generally improve. However, often times consumers respond to eating low fat foods by increasing their overall intake of calories ie. eating more of these reduced fat foods. One reason for this increase in food consumption seems to be psychological as people feel liberated to eat more since they are eating what is thought to be a healthier food. Over the long term, this increase in overall calories can result in weight gain, an increased risk of diabetes, and a worsening of cholesterol profiles such as lower HDL levels (the good cholesterol).

  • In the next few weeks, I will examine the various types of dietary fats and cholesterol and their effects on cholesterol levels and health risk. When possible, specific examples of food will be provided. I will end this review of dietary fat and cholesterol by presenting the current recommendations for a heart healthy diet. These recommendations will be critically reviewed and translated into a more practical and meaningful recipe for everyday use.
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Published On: June 27, 2006