What most influences your cholesterol levels? Fat? Cholesterol? It’s challenging to know what to look for on food labels. If you think you are making a good choice because the package “contains no cholesterol,” the food companies have succeeded in distracting you from the two culprits: saturated fat and trans-fat.

Experts report that there isn’t enough evidence to recommend an ‘upper limit’ of cholesterol (in foods) that we should consume. But the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association’s most updated guidelines for reducing heart disease risk tell us which fat is dangerous: trans-fat. This fat raises LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and lowers HDL (the “good” cholesterol) in our blood (the AHA website explains these terms). Some think of it this way: LDL is Lousy; HDL is Healthy. Saturated fat is another unhealthy choice, because eating it causes the liver to send cholesterol into the bloodstream, causing a build-up or plaque inside our arteries.

Saturated fats

For optimal heart health, eat less saturated fat and as little trans-fat as possible. Saturated fat is found in foods that come from animals and some plants. Saturated fats are found in high amounts in fatty cuts of meat, poultry with skin, whole-milk dairy foods, butter, lard, and coconut and palm oils. But wait: Isn’t coconut oil a “health food?” Why does this blog post say that we should limit it in our diet? There is a lot of buzz about the health benefits of coconut products. The reality is that coconut oil is a highly saturated oil and therefore will raise your blood cholesterol. If you like to eat coconut, make it an occasional treat rather than using it as an everyday cooking ingredient.

Trans fats

Limit intake of trans fats to very little or none. Trans fats are found in high amounts in foods made with partially hydrogenated oils, such as some desserts, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, stick margarines, and coffee creamers. You may be thinking:  Didn’t our government recently ban trans-fat from food products? Well, because of that law, the Nutrition Facts Label on any package will state: trans-fat: 0 grams. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean zero grams, because the FDA (writer of the Food Label law) says “The Nutrition Facts Label can state 0 g of trans fat if the food product contains less than 0.5 g of trans fat per serving”. So, the more servings you eat, the more trans-fat you could be consuming in many processed foods. A summary of food sources of healthy vs. unhealthy fats can be found here.

Your VA dietitian can help you with lifestyle changes to lower your cholesterol and your risk for heart disease. He or she can really help clear the confusion. Call your VA and request a visit with a Registered Dietitian today!

Anne Koth, RD, hails from Wisconsin and provides nutrition care to Veterans at the Rockford, IL Community-Based Outpatient Clinic and at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center in Wisconsin. She is also a Veteran of the U.S. Navy Reserve.

Share this story

Published on Sep. 24, 2019

Estimated reading time is 2.5 min.

Views to date: 351


  1. Commercial Microwaves October 21, 2019 at 12:30 am

    Some charcoal grills come with their unique igniters.

    Try choosing grills that have this option. Other grills need
    lighter fluid to fireplace up. With the built-in igniter, you are going to not need lighter fluid anymore.
    On another hand, you may want to avoid lighter fluid altogether.

    Some people dislike the tastes and smell this fluid increases the grill.

  2. Hermann Calderas September 30, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    Very interesting article. Congratulations. I think it’s really important to share this information. Thank you very much

  3. Virgil Smith September 30, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    Hey Olvido,
    This is Virgil (the vegan just below you here on this site.) I had a big problem with high cholesterol a few years ago – even with a vegetarian diet _ but I went vegan eight years ago and my levels are down. With the vegetarian diet, I still ate dairy and eggs, and that is the problem causing high cholesterol. I was able to quit my statins and live pill-free.
    I encourage you to look at the documentary called, Forks Over Knives. It explains everything you need to do to get healthy again with a healthy diet. The Fort Worth Library has this video, and you can check it out free.

  4. Ovidio Velazquez Gaudino September 28, 2019 at 8:09 am

    What about the persons that their body produced the LDL, how can they lowered down.

  5. Jim Rosiak September 28, 2019 at 12:17 am

    I agree that saturated and trans fat are bad for you; however, sugar is probably biggest problem for most people. Even worse, diet soda is terrible. Four yrs ago I was pre-diabetic and I was in stage two of kidney disease. I quit drinking diet coke; four months later, I had my physical, and I no longer had neither condition. Now I drink decaf in the morning, and filtered water most of the day; I have just two beers in the evening…sometimes it’s difficult to stop at two, but I do. I have some other ways to help me to lose weight; I limit my intake of meat, I eat more fruit and vegetables, and I don’t eat within three hours of bedtime.
    I got the results of my blood work results; my Dr said she had nothing to say about it since everything was within the proper range. In addition, I had lost 15 lbs. In addition, I’m 77 yrs old. I believe that a good diet, and moderate exercise is the best way to stay healthy. Life is good; I’m happy and I feel good.
    BTW, I REALLY appreciate the VA, especially the caring staff. Thanks much.

  6. Virgil Smith September 27, 2019 at 2:10 pm

    I am happy to find out that the Veterans Health Service, that I have used for many years since I got out of the military, has started recognizing the benefits of eating a healthy diet. I have been a vegetarian since 1970, and a vegan for the last eight years. I am very healthy, and I attribute my good health to a life of mostly plant-based eating. Unfortunately, my primary care physician has no interest in or knowledge of nutrition, so I must find inspiration elsewhere.

    If anyone is interested in furthering their knowledge to the advantages of a plant-based diet, I recommend a film called, Forks Over Knives. It was the tipping point that changed me into a vegan, and I have been happy and healthy since the change.

    Health to all.

    • Suzanne Moore PhD October 17, 2019 at 12:25 am

      You are so right Virgil! On all counts! My experience is the same. Couldn’t budge my LDL until I went vegan and gave up all extra fats. Saved me from intolerable Statins, but, as with your doc, my docs, military and civilian have no interest in how I did it using a plant pased, whole foods diet.

  7. Lori Manning September 27, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    Personal responsibility not the governments. I lowered my cholesterol (LDL & Total) by just watching what I ate. It did not cost more money – I counter… less money.
    Eatt what you need- not what you want. USN Ret

  8. Gary Lamon September 27, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    I eat a 90% carnivore diet and very low carbohydrates. About 70% of my calories comes from animal products, eggs and dairy. I do not count calories.
    I’ve reduced by cholesterol back to the normal range, my Blood pressure is back to normal and I’ve lost almost 50 lbs. I was prediabetic as measured by A1C and now back to normal range.(5.6).
    My pains in my joints have left, my energy is very good and I feel great. I was on the VA small plate program and was hungry all the time, lost only a few lbs and was hardly able to do anything.
    My take is that the VA is on the wrong track. I think suggesting Keto and carnivore would be a better option for most people.

  9. aireacondicionadomadrid.net September 25, 2019 at 4:22 pm

    Congratulations for such an interesting article. People need more information about healthy habits. In my opinion food is the most important thing to keep us healthy

  10. Couronne Princesse September 25, 2019 at 7:12 am

    Very interesting article. It is true that it becomes very difficult to eat healthy and most of the time, healthy food is very expensive.

Comments are closed.

More Stories

  • In this four-part series on VA's Emergency Preparedness Simulation efforts, you'll see how simulation and emergency preparedness professionals build collective strategies that mitigate, prepare, respond, and recover from tragedies impacting Veterans and their communities.

  • A VA employee donated a kidney to his friend and VA coworker, providing the gift of life. Doctors said 100% match almost impossible.

  • The PACT Act will help VA provide health care and benefits to millions of toxic-exposed Veterans and their survivors. Veterans have already begun to apply for the benefits.