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Cholesterol-What is it and What do I do about it?

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Try to reduce both the trans- and saturated-fats in your diet as much as possible and replace them with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.


We hear a lot about cholesterol. Unless your Doctor has told you that yours is too high, you may not have really understood a lot about it.

Cholesterol is a wax-like substance made in the liver. It links to carrier proteins called lipoproteins that let it dissolve in blood and transport to all parts of the body.

Too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to problems. Research has shown an established link between high blood cholesterol levels and heart disease. Deposits of cholesterol can build up in arteries. These deposits, called plaque, narrow an artery enough to slow or block blood flow. This narrowing process, called atherosclerosis, commonly occurs in the coronary arteries that nourish the heart. Plaque can rupture, causing blood clots that may lead to heart attack, stroke, or sudden death. Fortunately, the buildup of cholesterol can be slowed, stopped, and possibly even reversed.

Cholesterol-carrying lipoproteins play a central role the development of atherosclerotic plaque and cardiovascular disease. The two main types basically work in opposite directions.

Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), carry cholesterol from the liver to the rest of the body. When there is too much LDL cholesterol in the blood, it can be deposited on the walls of the coronary arteries. Because of this, LDL cholesterol is referred to as the "bad" cholesterol.

High-density lipoproteins (HDL) carry cholesterol from the blood back to the liver, which processes the cholesterol for elimination from the body. HDL makes it less likely that excess cholesterol in the blood will be deposited in the coronary arteries, which is why HDL cholesterol is often referred to as the "good" cholesterol.

One of the most important determinants of blood cholesterol level is fat in the diet, not total fat, but specific types of fat. Research has shown that there are good fats and bad fats. For some with high cholesterol, reducing the amount of cholesterol in the diet has a helpful impact on blood cholesterol levels. For others, the amount of cholesterol eaten has little impact on the amount of cholesterol circulating in the blood.

Some fats are bad because they tend to worsen blood cholesterol levels.  Let’s better understand the fats we consume in our diet.

Saturated fats are mainly animal fats, found in meat, seafood, whole-milk dairy products (cheese, milk, and ice cream), poultry skin, and egg yolks. Some plant foods are also high in saturated fats, including coconut and coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil. While saturated fats raise total blood cholesterol levels more than dietary cholesterol does, they tend to raise both the "good" HDL and the "bad" LDL cholesterol. 

Trans fats are worse for cholesterol levels than saturated fats because they not only raise LDL (bad) cholesterol, but also lower HDL (good) cholesterol.

Trans fatty acids are fats produced by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen. This process is known as hydrogenation. The more hydrogenated an oil is, the harder it will be at room temperature. For example, a spreadable tub margarine is less hydrogenated and so has fewer trans fats than a stick margarine. 

Most of the trans fats in the American diet are found in commercially prepared baked goods, snack foods, and processed foods. Commercially prepared fried foods, like French fries and onion rings, also contain a good amount of trans fat.

To lower your trans-fat consumption, choose liquid vegetable oils or a soft tub margarine that contains little or no trans fats. Reduce how much commercially prepared baked goods, snack foods, and processed foods, including fast foods you eat. Some fats are good because they can improve blood cholesterol levels.

Unsaturated fats are found in products derived from plant sources, such as vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. There are two main categories: polyunsaturated fats, those  found in high concentrations in sunflower, corn, and soybean oils,  and monounsaturated fats, which are found in high concentrations in canola, peanut, and olive oils. In studies in which polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats were eaten in place of carbohydrates, these good fats decreased LDL levels and increased HDL levels.

Although the different types of fat have a varied effect on health and disease, the basic message is simple. Limit the bad fats and replace them with good fats. Try to reduce both the trans- and saturated-fats in your diet as much as possible and replace them with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

For more information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse. We're online at, on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS/CarlaDue, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at

By Carla Due
County Extension Agent - FCS
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Carla Due
County Extension Agent - FCS
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
400 Laurel Street, Suite 215 Texarkana AR 71854
(870) 779-3609

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