Saturated fats are found in animal-based foods, including meats, butter, whole-milk dairy products (including whole-milk yogurt, cheese and ice cream) and poultry skin. They are also found in some plant-based oils, including palm oil.
Most stick margarines contain trans fats, and trans fats are found in many packaged baked goods, potato chips, snack foods, fried foods and fast foods that use or create 'hydrogenated' oils. (All food labels must now list the amount of trans fats, right after the amount of saturated fats - good news for consumers.) There is no safe amount of trans fats, so try to keep them as far from your plate as possible.
Research into the effects of dietary cholesterol have been mixed, which is not surprising - different people have different susceptibilities. Still, if you want to take a firm hand to reduce your risk factors, you may want to consider cutting down on all high-cholesterol foods, including egg yolks, shellfish, liver, and other organ meats like sweetbreads and foie gras.
Soluble fiber can help reduce LDL-cholesterol by grabbing onto cholesterol and escorting it through your digestive system and out of your body. Some of the best soluble-fiber-rich foods include oatmeal, barley, lentils, brussels sprouts, peas, beans (kidney, lima, black, navy, pinto), apples, blackberries, pears, raisins, oranges, grapefruit, dates, figs, prunes, apricots, broccoli and sweet potatoes.
There was a time when heart researchers slapped the same label 'bad' on every kind of fat. Now, we know that trans fats and saturated fats are amazingly dangerous for cardiovascular health, but omega-3 fats and monounsaturated fats are actually good for your heart. Because all fats (heart-healthy fats included) are dense in calories, be sure to moderate your intake so you don't gain weight.
Heart-healthy fish oils are especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids. In multiple studies over the past 15 years, people who ate diets high in omega-3s had 30 to 40 percent reductions in heart disease, and fewer cases of sudden death from arrhythmia. Although we don't yet know why fish oil works so well, there are several possibilities. Omega-3s seem to reduce inflammation, reduce high blood pressure, decrease triglycerides, help to make blood thinner and less sticky so it is less likely to clot ... PLUS raise HDL cholesterol!
So omega-3s affect nearly every risk factor for heart disease. I recommend eating at least three servings (4-ounce portions) of one of the omega-3-rich fish every week - fish like wild salmon, sardines, anchovies and mackerel (not king). If you cannot manage to eat that much fatty fish, incorporate omega-3-fortified eggs and additional plant-based sources like walnuts, soybeans and ground flaxseed. Also, consider taking fish-oil capsules.
Scientists discovered the benefits of monounsaturated fats, mainly found in olive oil, by observing Mediterranean populations. They use olive oil more than any other form of fat and typically have low rates of coronary artery disease. Research shows it doesn't help to just add monounsaturated fats to your diet - you need to replace some of the unhealthy fats that are already in your diet with better choices. Best foods for monounsaturated fats include: olive oil and olives, canola oil, avocado, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, peanuts, cashews, pistachio nuts and natural peanut butter.
Sterols and stanols have a structure similar to cholesterol, and they compete with cholesterol for access to receptors in the small intestines. Research reports that 2 grams of sterols/stanols per day can reduce LDL-cholesterol levels by between 5 and 14 percent. Although it's difficult to get a therapeutic dose from food alone, pistachio nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and wheat germ are all good sources. Sterols and stanols are also added as functional ingredients to certain heart-healthy foods (e.g., Take Control Light and Benecol Light spreads, Promise Activ Supershots and CocoaVia chocolate bars) ... they're also sold in over-the counter supplements like Cholest-Off by Nature Made. If you have high cholesterol and want to try a therapeutic dose, speak with a registered dietitian about the best course of action.