Facts about cholesterol


Rohini Diniz

Fats are made up of a mixture of smaller units known as fatty acids. Based on their chemical structures fatty acids are classified as saturated and unsaturated. Dietary fats are made up of a mixture of both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in different proportions and depending upon the fatty acid that is present in the largest amount, dietary fats are classified as saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. It is important to remember that the quality and quantity of dietary fat intake has a great influence on the production of cholesterol and the level of blood lipids in the body. Hence, dietary fats need to be chosen with care.

Saturated fats: Saturated fatty acids (SFAs) are those fatty acids that contain the maximum number of hydrogen atoms between the carbon atoms and in a sense the structure is saturated. Fats containing SFAs are also referred to as solid fats as they are solid at room temperature. Saturated fats are stable and generally less prone to oxidation or spoilage as compared to liquid oils. These fatty acids are primarily found in animal products such as meats, dairy products like cream, butter, cheese, ghee and eggs. Tropical oils such as palm oil and coconut oil also contain saturated fatty acids. 

Earlier it was believed that a high intake of saturated fats raises blood cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of developing heart disease. In recent years, a meta-analysis of 21 studies have stirred up a controversy that saturated fats are not as bad as they were thought to be and there was not enough evidence to conclude that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. When it comes to saturated fats, moderation is the key and balancing its consumption with unsaturated fats is the best way to maintain heart health.

Here are some tips to reduce your saturated fat and trans-fat intake

► Coconut and coconut oil can be part of a healthy diet provided that other sources of saturated fat are kept at a minimum.

► Don’t use vanaspati or margarine in home cooking. Use small amounts of pure ghee in combination with vegetable oils.

► Red meats, organ meats and the skin of chicken and other poultry birds contain saturated fat and cholesterol. Remove the skin of chicken and the fat of red meat completely before cooking. Avoid buying ready for sale minced meat as it may contain more fat than what is visible. Buy a cut of lean meat and get it minced.

► Soups, stews and gravies prepared from red meat or chicken stock also contain saturated fat. Before re-heating them, remove the fat layer that has formed on top.

► Baked goods such as croissants, biscuits such as fenori and angel wings have a very flaky texture and need to be prepared with solid fats. Use butter instead of margarine or vanaspati to prepare these items and eat them in restricted amounts.

To be continued. . .

(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 21 years of experience, practicing at Panaji and can be contacted on [email protected])