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Fats and Cholesterol

Expert Answers to Readers’ Questions

My triglyceride level is high. How can I lower my triglycerides with my diet?

High triglycerides can be of concern to your health. Interestingly, a lower fat diet will not likely lower your triglyceride levels. However, a diet lower in carbohydrates, in particular, high-glycemic-index carbohydrates such as sugar, white potato, white breads, and white pasta should help. In addition, an increase in monounsaturated fats such as olive oil may be beneficial.

To learn more, read 5 Quick Tips for Choosing Healthy Fats and Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good.

What are omega-3 fatty acids and why are they important?

Omega-3 fatty acids (also known as n-3 fatty acids) are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential nutrients for health. We need omega-3 fatty acids for numerous normal body functions, such as controlling blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain, and since our bodies cannot make omega-3 fats, we must get them through food. Omega-3 fatty acids are also associated with many health benefits, including protection against heart disease and possibly stroke. In addition to these established benefits for cardiovascular disease, omega-3 fatty acids have been tested to treat depression, often in combination with psychiatric medications. Although there is some evidence of benefit in people who have more severe depressive symptoms and in modest doses, more research is needed to confirm this finding and to identify the optimum treatment regimen. New studies are identifying potential benefits for a wide range of conditions, including cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and other autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

To learn more, read Ask the Expert: Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Omega-3 Fats: An Essential Contribution.

What can I do to lower my total cholesterol and LDL?

Several strategies can help you lower the amounts of total and harmful LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream, and thus your risk of heart disease:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Aim for a healthy body weight.
  • Avoid trans fats.
  • Limit foods rich in saturated fat, like red meat and whole milk, ice cream, and other full-fat dairy foods.
  • Focus on foods rich in unsaturated fats, dietary fiber, and healthful protein. Fruits, vegetables, fish, beans, nuts, and seeds are all excellent choices.

Seeing your doctor regularly is another important way to keep cholesterol in check. Everyone over age 18 should have his or her cholesterol checked at least every five years. If you have reason to suspect that you’re at risk for heart disease because of family history or previously measured high cholesterol levels, have it checked more often than that.

If diet and exercise aren’t enough to get your total and LDL levels into the safe zone, then your doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medication.

To learn more, read Staying Active, How to Get to Your Healthy Weight, Fats and Cholesterol, Fiber, and Protein.

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The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source is to provide timely information on diet and nutrition for clinicians, allied health professionals, and the public. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The information does not mention brand names, nor does it endorse any particular products.