One U.S. adult dies from heart disease every 38 seconds according to the American Heart Association.

Today, LetsGetChecked, is joined by Farah Lakhani who specializes in cardiovascular disease, weight management, and public health with Compass Nutrition.


"According to the CDC, about 1 in 4 people die of heart disease in the United States as it is the leading cause of death for both men and women. As it continues to be the no. 1 cause of death, combination of efforts of government funded programs and public health initiatives have attributed to the reduction cardiovascular disease in the US and are trending down due to reduction in risk factors and lifestyle modifications."

Let's talk about the different types of fat, the effects that high cholesterol can have on your health and surprising foods that cause high cholesterol.

Quick Facts

  • Heart disease and stroke are the two leading causes of death globally.

  • The direct and indirect costs of cardiovascular disease and stroke are $315 billion in the U.S.

  • One U.S. adult dies of a stroke every 40 seconds.

  • 2,300 U.S. adults die of heart disease every day.


Lets Talk About Fat

Today 17% of children are overweight or obese, this statistic highlights a 3 fold increase in incidence rates over the last decade. Adult obesity rates aren't looking too great either, with 35% of U.S. adults living with obesity and 34% of adults being classified as overweight.

Farah says: "Lifestyle factors plays a major role in your heart health. The most common cause of high cholesterol is living an unhealthy lifestyle such as unhealthy eating habits, lack of physical activity and smoking. Incorporation of “bad fats” in to the diet contribute to high cholesterol such as saturated fats found in red meats, butter, deep fried and processed foods and trans fats found mainly in fried and processed foods."

In today's world, it's only becoming more difficult to know what the definitions actually mean between saturated, unsaturated, mono, trans and poly fats when it comes to the food you eat on a daily basis.

The two most important fats to familiarize yourself with are saturated and unsaturated fats. While looking at food package labels, you should be looking out for:

Saturated Fats: are fats that are solid in room temperature. Saturated fats can be found in meat, lard and dairy products. Saturated fats will increase the level of cholesterol in the blood, most notably LDL which is "bad cholesterol".

Unsaturated Fats: are fats that are liquid in room temperature. Unsaturated fats can be found in plant based oils like olive oil. Unsaturated fats can also be found in peanut, rape, cotton seed, sunflower, and soybean oil. Unsaturated fats do not increase the level of cholesterol in the blood.

Each day, you consume carbohydrates, protein, and fats. You will also consume sodium, sugars, and fibre. Fat should account for no more than 20-35% of you daily calorie intake to avoid high cholesterol.

Saturated fat, or the fat that can increase your level of "bad cholesterol" should be limited to just 10% of your daily energy intake. One gram of fat equates to 9 calories, men should have no more 70 grams of fat day and women should have no more than 45 grams of fat a day.

Heart disease and stroke are most commonly caused by a condition called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up in the arteries as a result of high cholesterol in the blood.

Farah says: "As it continues to be the no. 1 cause of death, a combination of efforts of government funded programs and public health initiatives have attributed to the reduction in cardiovascular disease in the US and are trending down due to reduction in risk factors and lifestyle modifications."

There are no visible symptoms of high cholesterol. Often the symptoms of on-going high cholesterol will not present themselves until it's too late.

What are the some of the signs of heart disease?


This picture illustrates the difference between a healthy artery and one that is becoming affected by the processes of atherosclerosis.


What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is produced in the liver and is found in every cell, it may also be taken into the body by consuming certain foods.

Farah says: "Cholesterol is defined as a waxy like substance found in the cells of your body. It is essential in your body to aid in making hormones, vitamin D synthesis and digestion."

Cholesterol is also known as a lipid. As cholesterol is a waxy-oil based substance, and blood is water based, it does not mix and mingle within the blood, instead it is circulated throughout the body by lipoproteins.

There are two types of lipoproteins. These lipoproteins are known as "good" and "bad" fats.

Farah says:

"We certainly do hear a lot about the good and bad cholesterol. There are two types of cholesterol, high density lipoproteins (HDL) and low density lipoproteins (LDL). HDL is considered the “good” cholesterol which improves your heart health and puts you in good standing if it is high which has shown protection against heart attacks. LDL has been known to be less favorable as it contributes to fatty buildup in the arteries which puts you at risk for heart attacks, stroke and other heart related conditions. Overall goal is to keep your HDL levels higher than your LDL."

High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL)

HDL, is also known as “good fat” because it carries excess cholesterol to the liver for processing. Excess cholesterol is then expelled from the body as waste.

Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL)

LDL is also known as “bad fat” because it transports cholesterol to sensitive parts of the body including arteries, it can dump cholesterol in the arteries which can cause them to become hard and narrow.

Another important fat in the blood to measure when it comes to attaining a comprehensive view of your overall cholesterol, heart health levels and body fat.


Triglycerides are another type of fat that circulates in your body. Triglycerides differ to cholesterol as they store excess calories in the blood to be released within meals, whereas cholesterol is used to for cell and hormone maintenance and production.

When explained, the role of triglycerides in our systems are quite easy to understand. If you consume more calories than you burn off, this excess energy is stored in the body as a triglyceride. Triglycerides are stored in your fat cells. When you have gone for a prolonged period of time without eating, triglycerides are released from the fat cells to provide sufficient energy until your next meal.

Triglycerides are equally as important as LDL and HDL in deciphering your overall health because if your triglyceride levels are high, they will contribute to a hardening of the arteries and the buildup of plaque in the arteries.

Is All Cholesterol Bad?

There's good news! Not all cholesterol is bad and fat shouldn't be feared, fat plays a very important role in your physiological funtion. While there may be many fear-mongering fat-free diets on the market, you should never consider cutting it from your diet, unless a certified medical professional has sugegested you do so for health reasons.

From reading this article, you now know that there are two types of fat, LDL, which is also known as bad cholesterol and HDL which is known as good cholesterol.

Circulating cholesterol plays a very important role in your body. Fat provides the body with energy, supports cell growth, protects your organs, and insulates your body.

If you are underweight, cell growth is slowed, your immune system is weakened and you have an increased sensitivity to the cold among a whole other host of health issues.

If you are overweight, you are at risk of "over-insulating" the organs, as the arteries which carry blood to vital organs become clogged leading to an increased risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. If you are overweight or obese, you increase your risk of developing type two diabetes which is another leading cause of death in the U.S.


Is all cholesterol bad? - No, we need cholesterol to function.

HDL is essential in transporting cholesterol to the liver to be processed and expelled from the body. Fat in the body is essential, to maintain a healthy pregnancy, you need to have a minimum of 22% body fat.

However, you must remember that moderation in all things is essential to maintaining good health.

Surprising Foods That Cause High Cholesterol

When it comes to foods that are high in fat, it is easy to assume that the only foods that are high in saturated fat are those that we would typically view as "junk foods."

This isn't always the case, there are surprising foods that cause high cholesterol out there, and it's not always deep fried or packaged as a treat. In saying that, it is important to remember that all things work well in moderation.

When it comes to the types of fats that we should be including in our diet,Farah says:

"From a nutrition stand point, it is essential to incorporate more essential fats in our daily diets such as Omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats as it supports heart health. These food sources include wild caught salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, fish oil supplements, walnuts, grounded flax seeds, chia seeds, avocados and extra virgin olive oil. In addition to reducing the LDL cholesterol, these foods counteract inflammation in our bodies which help to fight against heart disease."

Below, we have detailed some of the top surprising foods that cause high cholesterol:

Coconut Oil


Coconut oil has been long hailed as the new essenital super food or super oil in the last decade, promoted as the best alternative to add to cooking, coffee and even facemasks to improve a healthy glow.

Oils are generally categorized by the highest volume of fat they contain. Coconut oil contains saturated, monosaturated and polysaturated fatty acids. As we outlined earlier, saturated fats are those that are solid at room temperature. Eating too much saturated fat is one of the leading causes of high cholesterol. Coconut oil contains 92% of saturated fat.

Tip: Although, coconut oil is most most commonly available to purchase in a solid form, when you use it in your cooking, try to imagine it as a liquid. That way, you will be better able to control your portion size and really savour the flavour of the oil. Coconut oil is not a "better alternative" to other options. It should be eaten in moderation as part of a healhthy diet.

Flour Tortillas


For those who are trying to lower their cholesterol levels or lose weight, it might seem like flour tortillas are the obvious choice instead of doughy breads at lunchtime. Surprisingly, this is not the case!

While tortillas may seem like a smart swap for other carbohydrates, the average wrap contains upto 10% of your daily fat intake excluding the condiments and fillings.

There is also very little difference between a white and brown tortilla, other than food dye. If you're out enjoying some Mexican food, opt for corn tortillas which have a higher fiber content for healthy digestion.

Tip: Try not to buy into products that might be labelled as diet foods. The only way you can know more about your nutritional intake is by reading food labels and understanding what they mean. We recently talk you through how to read food labels when it comes to fats, and that article is not to be missed. Read it here: The Best Fat Burner Is Your Brain.



In one study it was found that a bowl of granola has a higher sugar content than a can of coke and a higher fat content than a small portion of McDonalds chips.

While granola may seem like an innocent diet food, or an alternative to a fry, it is full of preservatives, preservatives which may make it delicious but deadly! The same can be said for a host of energy and protein bars that hide refined sugars in carbohydrates and saturated fat under the general heading of fat.

Tip: If you want a healthy, balanced breakfast, go for some avocado (which is full of HDL, or good fat) and eggs (just the whites if you are trying to lower your cholesterol levels.)

Dairy Products


There is a lot of fear mongering around dairy in the media. Some have said that going dairy free can cure digestion issues, combat acne and even lower your likelihood of receiving a cancer diagnosis. In truth, it really does just come down to personal and physiological preference.

Dairy should not be feared, milk, cheese, and yoghurts are rich in calcium which are essential for healthy bone development. However, you should bear in mind that 1 single cup of milk contains 5 grams of saturated fat, or 24 milligrams of cholesterol.

Tip: Swap lattes for americanos with a splash of milk instead to ensure that you're keeping your cholesterol in check. When it comes to cheese, keep it to a match box portion a day.

Certain Meats


Meat is a great source of energy dense protein, however depending on how it is cooked and whether or not it has skin, it may cause high cholesterol.

Avoid meats that have the skin on, such as chicken wings or crispy duck. Organ meats such as liver also contain high cholesterol content, infact a mere 3oz of liver contains 419 milligrams of cholesterol, which is 140% of your daily recommended value.

Tip: Go for the lean cuts of meat such as a breast of chicken as opposed to a leg or thigh of the chicken. Cut the fat off your portions of meat, take the skin off and try to have one or two vegetarian days a week if you want to lower your lipids!



Prawns or shrimp are high in omega 3 and 6, but they are also contain the highest cholesterol of any other shellfish. Objectively, fish and shellfish are very heart healthy but you should bear in mind that one cup of shrimp contains 323 milligrams of cholesterol which is 108% of your daily cholesterol intake.

Tip: If you are eating shellfish, try to go for steamed or baked versions to ensure get your essential healthy fats in the cleanest way possible.

Whether your trying to improve your cholesterol levels or you simply want to eat a little healthier, Farah says: "Eating healthier does not have to be boring, be creative in the foods you want to incorporate in to your daily meal routine. Mindfulness is the greatest advice I can provide as a Registered Dietitian to ensure someone is happy with the foods they can enjoy in moderation and attaining a healthier relationship with food."


Farah adds: "Changing up our daily meal routine by establishing healthier meal compositions on our food plate will benefit in lifestyle modifications. It is encouraged by numerous health studies to consume a fiber rich diet which includes whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes and seeds as it supports heart health by reduction in cholesterol absorption in the blood and overall health. Leaner cuts of poultry, fish and plant-based proteins are also encouraged for heart health."

Should You Test Your Cholesterol Levels?

Everyone should test their cholesterol at some point in their lives. In particular, you should test your cholesterol levels if:

  • You have a family history of heart disease.
  • You have a high cardiovascular risk score.
  • You are trying to combat obesity or lose weight.
  • You are going through the menopause.
  • You live a sedentary lifestyle
  • You suffer from diabetes, kidney disease, polycystic ovary syndrome or an underactive thyroid gland.

Dr. Rowley explains the importance of testing your cholesterol levels:

Ultimately, you should get your cholesterol levels tested to get an overview of your overall health, especially as there are no specific symptoms of high cholesterol. By the time you or your doctor realize that you are experiencing atheroscleroisis, it may be too late.

This article was not written to scare you or make you fear fat. Fat is good but eating it in moderation is better. Start your cholesterol awareness journey by testing your cholesterol with LetsGetChecked.

Read: The Best Fat Burner Is Your Brain

Written by Hannah Kingston | Medically Approved by Dr. Dominic Rowley