I am trying to watch my cholesterol and find the whole subject a little confusing. Some seafood recipes are high in cholesterol, for example, but I've heard that kind of cholesterol is okay. Is that true? Can you help me? —B.M., Belleville, Illinois
The cholesterol question can be confusing! For one thing, blood cholesterol (which occurs naturally in our bodies) is different from the cholesterol found in food. The amount of cholesterol in our diet can affect blood cholesterol, but the fat we eat seems to have a greater influence. Saturated fats (most are solid at room temperature, such as butter or hydrogenated vegetable oil) can increase total blood cholesterol and LDL, also known as “bad cholesterol”. Monounsaturated fats (olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil), polyunsaturated fats (safflower oil, sunflower oil and corn oil) and some nuts can actually decrease LDL. Some kinds of seafood, such as shrimp, crayfish and lobster, are low in saturated fat and high in cholesterol, but they don’t have as much elevating effect on blood cholesterol as do foods that are high in saturated fat. For a healthy diet, it is recommended that a person consume no more than 30% of his/her total calories from fat. Ideally, no more than 7-10% of those calories should come from saturated fat. Medical experts suggest that dietary cholesterol should be limited to 300 milligrams per day for people who are not on special diets. Those who are on special diets should consult with their doctors and/or dietitians. Eating a well-balanced diet that’s rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables combined with regular exercise is the best way to keep your cholesterol in check.