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Food/Nutrition Columnist Author: Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN - Food and Nutrition Columnist - Last Updated: Dec 14, 2013 - 10:27:41 AM

The Fat and Cholesterol Counter

By Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN - Food and Nutrition Columnist -
Dec 16, 2013 - 12:05:00 AM

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( - Those who eat a heart-healthy, moderate-fat diet reduce their risk of dying from heart disease, having a heart attack or having a stroke by 30%. In our latest book we bring together the current research on heart disease and diet to help you understand that food is your best medicine.

Most eating recommendations come from a balance of scientific evidence and scientific judgment. This is called an "evidence-based approach." Experts gather all the research available and use their trained judgment to make recommendations about what to eat, how to eat, and when to eat. But science keeps moving ahead and the evidence the experts look at often changes. The recommendations about fat and cholesterol are perfect examples of the evolution of scientific findings.

The Story of Fats

In the mid-1980s we were all urged to lower fat intake. What the experts really meant was that we should eat fewer foods high in fat and eat more fruits, vegetables and healthy whole grain carbohydrates. Food companies viewed this as a marketing opportunity and soon the supermarkets were flooded with nonfat or low fat cookies, ice cream, salad dressing, cheese, and sour cream. We had swapped sugar and starch for fat and very few people increased the amount of fruit, vegetable or fiber they ate.

As the science of fats evolved researchers realized that eating a moderate amount of fat -- not a low fat, diet -- might be the best approach while trans fat should be avoided. Sadly the only message that was heard by consumers, loud and clear, is that fat is bad for you. But we know now that simply isn't true.

The Cholesterol Story

More than 55 years ago, researchers began to monitor 5,000 residents from Framingham, Massachusetts. The researchers discovered, by following these people that there was a connection between the level of cholesterol in the blood and the risk for heart disease. This was important, groundbreaking news. From that point on, high levels of total cholesterol became a marker for heart disease and remains so today.

Even though we currently know a lot about cholesterol, the story is still unfolding. Many experts question whether our current recommendations for the amount of cholesterol to eat daily are too low. Some experts believe that a certain amount of cholesterol has a positive effect on health and we should not aim to reduce our cholesterol so much. Other countries - Canada, Australia, the European Union, United Kingdom, Ireland, Korea, Japan, India and New Zealand - no longer recommend an upper limit of cholesterol intake each day. The experts from these countries do not feel that restricting cholesterol provides heart health benefits. It might be time to re-evaluate the recommendation for cholesterol levels in the US, too.

Why are sugar and fiber important?

Americans eat far too much sugar and not enough fiber. How does this affect heart disease risk, you wonder?  When the low fat eating craze took effect, experts hoped that people would lower their intake of high fat foods and substitute healthy carbohydrates instead - whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. This did not happen. Instead we piled on refined carbohydrates with limited fiber and lots of sugar - white bread, cookies, cake, white rice, candy, soda and sweetened fruit drinks.

Whole grains, which provide fiber, boost your immune system, reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, and reduce inflammation, a major player in heart disease. Yet, 96% of Americans don't eat enough fiber each day and most of eat far too much sugar, as much as 19 to 25 teaspoons a day! Added sugars make up as much as 25% of our calories daily.

We still have a lot to learn about the connection between sugar and heart disease. But we do know that eating too much sugar provides no health benefits and eating less has a positive effect on your health.

The Fat and Cholesterol Counter (Pocket Books, 2014) ( shows you how to protect yourself from the number one cause of death in the US - heart disease. It also gives you food counts for fat (saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated), trans fat, cholesterol, fiber and sugar to help you make the best choices so you can count on a healthy heart.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.

Look for:

The Diabetes Counter, 5th Ed., 2014

The Fat and Cholesterol Counter, 2014

The Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2013

The Calorie Counter, 6th Ed., 2013

The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012

The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011

The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010

The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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