When we talk about health and nutrition, the terms cholesterol and saturated fat are tossed about frequently. We should avoid large amounts of them, but I for one still get confused by the differences between the two. So I thought it might be a good time for a little review.
For starters, cholesterol is a waxy substance made by the liver and it's used by the body to make hormones, vitamin D, and other materials. It is essential to your body to function normally, and your body makes enough. Cholesterol can also be found in food, and then it is called, quite appropriately, "dietary cholesterol," and it's only found in animal products such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy. It is especially high in egg yolks and organ meats such as liver, brains, and kidneys.
Blood cholesterol refers to the cholesterol levels in your body, which can be determined by a blood test. Your total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL — HDL (good) cholesterol levels should be 40mg/dL or greater and LDL (bad) cholesterol should be 130 mg/dL or less.
If you eat too much dietary cholesterol (over 300mg a day) the extra will accumulate in the walls of the blood vessels, making your LDL (bad) blood cholesterol levels rise. Over time, your arteries will become narrower, which can cut off the blood supply to your heart (causing a heart attack) or your brain (causing a stroke).
So that is the skinny on cholesterol, and to review a few facts on saturated fat
Saturated fat is not essential to your body. It is found mainly in animal products such as meat, poultry, and dairy. All of these foods also contain dietary cholesterol. Palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil also contain saturated fats, and a lot of processed foods like cookies and crackers contain these oils. On the box it may say "No Cholesterol," but if you check the nutritional info, it may still contain saturated fat from those hidden oils. How sneaky. Saturated fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels more than dietary cholesterol itself, so they're the ones to watch out for. The RDI of saturated fat is 20g or less.
Fit's Tip: I'm not saying you should ditch the foods you love that contain cholesterol or saturated fat, just make sure you're staying below the recommended daily level.