Common Myths about Cholesterol, Foods and Fats

Lisa Nelson, RD, LN Health Pro
  • If you are trying to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, or your doctor has said that you need to lower your cholesterol, you are probably trying to keep a close eye on your diet. 


    This does not mean that you must avoid all your favorite foods. What it might take is substituting different ingredients in a recipe or stir-frying a food rather than frying it in deep fat. 


    Learning the difference in the types of fat that we eat and where these fats are found in our food is also important to controlling the cholesterol levels in our blood.  Taking precautions today could prevent a heart condition tomorrow. 

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    Here are some of the more common myths and facts that you should know provided by Rebecca S. Reeves, DrPH, RD, FADA.  

    Dr. Reeves served as past president of the American Dietetic Association, and has for the past 30 years conducted clinical trials in nutrition and behavioral medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. In 2001, the American Dietetic Association awarded her the Medallion Award, one of its highest awards.


    Question: Are the healthiest diets ones that limit all fats?

    Answer: You need to get 25 to 35 percent of your total calories from fats because your body can’t manufacture some essential fatty acids that it requires for proper functioning. 


    Question: Are all dietary fats essentially the same?

    Answer: There are different kinds of fats. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may actually lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol while saturated and trans fat are more closely associated with increasing your LDL cholesterol. Examples of foods containing each variety include:

    • Monosaturated: Olive oil, peanut butter, avocados
    • Polyunsaturated: Salmon, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils such as corn, soybeans, safflower
    • Saturated: Fatty red meats, bacon, real butter, tropical oils such as palm oil and coconut oil
    • Trans fat: Fast-food french fries, many commercially packaged foods such as donuts, crackers and cookies. They’re found in anything containing “partially hydrogenated oils”.  Even if the label claims zero trans fats, the serving can still include as much as 0.5 grams of trans fats.

    Question: Are products that are labeled “low fat” generally also low-calorie options? 

    Answer: Some food manufacturers replace the fat with other ingredients that may have just as many calories. 


    Question: Does olive oil have fewer calories than other types of oils?

    Answer: All fats – including olive oil -- contain nine calories per gram. 


    Question: Are foods labeled “trans fat free” usually healthy options?


    Answer:  Food manufacturers may replace trans fat with saturated fat, which can also raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol. By law, food manufacturers are allowed to include .5 grams of trans fats per serving, even if the food is labeled “zero.”


    Question: Can I get a sufficient amount of plant sterols from the foods I eat to take advantage of the sterols’ cholesterol-lowering benefit?


    Answer: While it’s true that plant sterols are found in everything from vegetable oils and grains to fruits and vegetables, you would need to eat approximately 100 pounds of fruits and vegetables daily to get the intake of 0.8 grams needed for plant sterols to lower your cholesterol. A better option is to go to to see mainstream foods that now contain added plant sterols. 


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    Question: If a food label says “contains plant sterols” will each serving contain enough to lower cholesterol?  


    Answer:  Not always. To make sure you are receiving an optimal amount of cholesterol-lowering plant sterols, look for the amount of plant sterols per serving on the package information.  According to the FDA, a minimum of 0.8 g plant sterols per day may reduce your risk of heart disease. To ensure that you are getting the right amount of plant sterols, look for the CoroWise logo with the heart on the label.    


    Question: Do plant sterols reduce cholesterol in the blood by dissolving it in the intestines? 


    Answer: Plant sterols work by reducing the absorption of cholesterol from your intestines, which in turn reduces the level of LDL  – bad  – cholesterol in your body. Cholesterol that is not absorbed is eliminated from your body. 


    Question: Will people with normal cholesterol benefit from consuming products made with plant sterols?


    Answer: Plant sterols lower LDL cholesterol in people with both normal and elevated blood cholesterol levels. Plant sterols can significantly lower LDL cholesterol levels regardless of the starting point.   


    Question: Do shellfish have a relatively high amount of cholesterol and should it be avoided on a cholesterol-lowering diet?


    Answer: While shrimp is higher in cholesterol than some other animal products, it is still very lean and low in saturated fat. So go ahead and enjoy a moderate amount of shrimp and other shellfish occasionally, just as long as you aren’t frying them.


    You can access the free e-course “7 Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure” at



Published On: June 19, 2013