Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is found in all of the body’s cells. It is needed for the production of hormones, bile acid and vitamin D. However, too much cholesterol can build up in the arteries and form plaques. These plaques can narrow or block the arteries, which can lead to heart disease, stroke and other health problems.
The role of fat in cholesterol levels
Fat is a macronutrient that is essential for energy storage, hormone production and cell function. Dietary fat can have an impact on cholesterol levels. Saturated and trans fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, while unsaturated fats lower LDL cholesterol levels and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
The key differences between fat and cholesterol
|Type of molecule||Lipid||Steroid|
|Source||Animal and plant products||Animal products and the body|
|Function||Energy storage, hormone production, and cell function||Hormone production, cell repair, and digestion|
|Impact on cholesterol levels||Saturated and trans fats can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, while unsaturated fats can lower LDL cholesterol levels and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels.||Cholesterol itself can raise LDL cholesterol levels.|
|Impact on health||Too much fat can lead to weight gain, obesity, and other health problems.||Too much cholesterol in the blood can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.|
How different types of fat affect cholesterol levels
Saturated fats tend to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. It is found in animal products such as meat, butter and cheese as well as plant-based foods such as palm oil and coconut oil.
Trans fats are created in a process called hydrogenation, which adds hydrogen to unsaturated fats to make them more solid. Trans fats are found in some processed foods, such as fried foods, baked goods and margarine. Trans fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
There are two types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, avocado oil and nuts. Polyunsaturated fats are found in fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, and in vegetable oils, such as corn oil and soybean oil. Unsaturated fats tend to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
How to manage cholesterol levels
High cholesterol is often a silent killer with no obvious symptoms so it’s important to take steps to manage your cholesterol levels. Here are some lifestyle changes to make to help manage your cholesterol levels:
- Eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated and trans fats and high in unsaturated fats
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Quit smoking
Not all fats are the same, saturated and trans fats raise LDL levels, while unsaturated fats lower LDL cholesterol levels and raise HDL levels. If you’re concerned about your cholesterol levels, take an at-home finger prick test like DocHQ’s Cholesterol check or talk to your doctor. This will give you a snapshot of your total cholesterol levels and help you develop a plan to manage them and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.