Cholesterol, explained | Healthy Snack Hacks

Originally Published With LetsGetChecked Articles

Knowing what you are putting into your body isn’t easy, there is simply so much “guff” out there, which is why I want to impart some of my wisdom and findings in breaking down the difference between cholesterol, good fats, and bad fats.

Put simply, the best fat burner is your brain. This might seem like a surprising statement as we often associate fat burners with exercises (sweaty ones), foods (celery) and supplements (most of which will make you feel like you’re having a heart attack.)

At the time of writing this article, there are over 29.4 million search results related to “best fat burner” when you type those keywords into Google. Those articles probably won’t lead to better health, however, understanding what you’re eating just might!

Firstly, “Fat” is a word I don’t like because it often has a negative connotation as being overweight or obese. Let’s look at some of the definitions of fat out there:

  1. Fat: a natural oily substance occurring in animal bodies, especially when deposited as a layer under the skin or around certain organs.
  2. Fat: a group of natural esters of glycerol and various fatty acids which are solid at room temperature and are the main constituents of animal and vegetable fat.
  3. Fat: a person (or animal) having a large amount of excess flesh.
  4. Fat: large in bulk or circumference.

Secondly, we all have “fat”, if you have 0% body fat, you are probably not alive, so, if you are reading this, let’s assume that part of your body is made of fat and you are alive, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are “fat.”

Here’s some pumpy music to get y’all excited about learning about cholesterol.

Cholesterol Explained: The Labels

There is so much out there in the media and in marketing that offers contrasting and similar messages when it comes to fat. Whether you’re keto or paleo, plant-based or vegan, there is no real “wrong way” to approach fats as long as you understand the basics.

Let’s start by cutting through unrealistic marketing messages when it comes to fat, and get to the point; fat is not something to be feared. Fat isn’t your best friend, but it’s not your worst enemy either.

Depending on the food, product, and branding, the way “fat” is labelled on a packet often varies, however, if we can break it down and learn more about how much we should be eating each day, it becomes less of a puzzle.

Reading food labels can be a minefield because of certain claims that food companies make, but thankfully, there are laws in place to make it increasingly difficult to pull the wool over consumers’ eyes.

The American Heart Association details FDA approved health claims and this can be helpful when we are making health choices when you’re hangry in Tesco.

Let’s have a look at some of the common claims that can be found on packaging, especially frozen foods, ready-meals and condiments:

  • “Fat Free”: Less than 0.5g of fat and no fat-containing ingredients.
  • “Low Fat”: 3g of fat or less.
  • “Reduced” or “Less fat”: At least 25% less fat than the regular product.
  • “Low in saturated fat”: 1g or less of saturated fat. 15% or less of the calories are coming from saturated fat.
  • “Lean”: Less than 10g of fat in the complete meal and 4.5g of saturated fat or less.
  • “Extra Lean”: Less than 5g of fat in the complete meal and 2g of saturated fat or less.
  • “Light (Lite)”: At least 50% less fat than the regular product and 30% fewer calories in the entire meal.

The Daily Recommended Intake (DRI) for fat in adults is 20-35% of what you each eat each day. In other words, it’s 20-35% of your daily calorie intake.

Calories are essential. We are told that that we should have 2,500 calories if we are male and 2,000 if we are female. (I know, where is the equality, right?)

A calorie is a unit of energy that exists in the food we eat. A calorie is also defined as the measure of heat needed to raise a kilogram of water by one degree.

When we consume food, we consume calories and those calories ensure that we can carry out physiological processes such as breathing, moving and thinking.

So, how much fat you can healthily consume depends on the how many calories you eat each day?

Let’s break this down using a daily intake of 2,000 calories as an example:

  • 20-35% of your daily calorie intake accounts for 44-77 grams of fat per day.
  • There are 9 calories per gram of fat.
  • If you have 44 grams of fat, this equates to 396 calories.
  • If you have 77 grams of fat, this equates to 693 calories.

If you want to calculate how many calories you are getting from fat, follow this formula:

  1. Take the number of total fat per grams in a product, this should be the first thing listed after the calories. (Example 4 grams of fat)
  2. Multiply this number by nine because there are nine calories per gram of fat.
  3. Locate how many servings there are per packet. If you will be having 3 servings of any particular food. You multiply the number of calories by the number of servings.

Example: Total Fat (4g) X Calories Per Gram Of Fat (9 Cal) = 36 Cals X Number Of Servings Per Person (3 Servings) = 108 calories


  • 108 Calories Of Fat = 12 Grams Of Fat (Calculated by dividing 108 by 9)
  • 108 Calories Of Fat = 9% Of Daily Recommended Fat Intake (Calculated by dividing 108 by 12)

I don’t personally count calories or macros, but looking at how much fat we should be eating each day simplifies the process when trying to ensure that you’re getting all of the nutrients you need each day. Next up on the menu, it’s important to understand the role of fats in the body.

Cholesterol Explained: Don’t Be Afraid Of Fat

Positive Effects Of Fat In The Diet

Fats Provide Energy

Fat is the body’s most concentrated source of energy and provides twice as much potential energy as carbohydrates and protein. While carbohydrates and protein provide the body with slow release energy, the body turns to stored fats when we exercise for energy by turning triglycerides in adipose or fat tissues into fatty acids which are used to fuel our muscles during a workout. According to Suzanne Girard Eberle, we have enough fat stored in our muscles fibers and fat cells to supply 100,000 calories which would potentially fuel over 100 hours of marathon running.

Fats Regulate Vitamin Absorption

Vitamins are broken into two categories which include water-soluble vitamins (include vitamin C and B vitamins)
Fat-soluble vitamins ( include vitamins A, D, E, and K).

Healthy fats help the body to absorb nutrients from food in the form of vitamins and minerals. In order to get the full suite of functions from vitamins A, D, E and K, your diet needs to contain enough healthy fats to carry these vitamins throughout your body. Research shows that the best vitamin absorption takes place on a diet of low to moderate healthy fat intake (around 15-30 grams) per day.

Fats Regulate Insulation & Temperature Regulation:

Fat ensures that you can regulate and maintain your core body temperature. The body has different types of fats and they are stored in adipose tissue. Brown adipose tissue dissipates energy by producing heat to maintain body temperature. White adipose tissue stores excess calories that people consume, this is the process which can lead to people being overweight or obese. “Beige adipocytes” are also said to generate heat on a lesser level than brown adipose tissue in a process called “browning.” Studies also refer to our metabolic rate when it comes to understanding how fat cells maintain a regular body temperature.

Negative Effects Of Fat In The Diet

  • Fats Are More Likely To Cause Weight Gain Than Carbohydrates Or Protein
    As mentioned earlier, fat averages at 9 calories per gram. Carbohydrates and proteins average at 4 calories per gram. Dietary fat does not necessarily cause weight gain, however if you are eating over the recommended daily amount, it is more likely to lead to weight gain than eating carbohydrate and protein sources, as well as an increase in LDL or “bad fats”. When it comes to fats, you should be aiming to eat unsaturated fats. We will talk about unsaturated fats very shortly.
  • Some Fats Can Cause An Increase In Bad Cholesterol & Chronic Health Conditions
    Heart disease is the number one cause of deaths globally. Atherosclerosis is a condition in which plaque builds up inside of the arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart and other parts of the body. Atherosclerosis is caused by high cholesterol and it is the number one cause of cardiovascular diseases including coronary artery disease, heart attacks and angina.

Cholesterol Explained: Knowing The Difference Between “Good” & “Bad” Fats

Like most things, fats are not created equally. Yes, we know, reading food labels is a drag but if you’re unfamiliar with the difference between “good” and “bad” fats, our quick tutorial should offer you all the tools you need to improve your everyday nutrition.

Food labels are hard to read, they just are, so don’t worry if this doesn’t make sense from the very beginning. Below, we will make an index of phrases that refer to different kinds of fats so if you’re ever not sure about what a label means, you can come back and refer to this article.

Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are chemically defined as fat molecules that have no double bonds between carbon molecules, as they are “saturated” in hydrogen molecules. Saturated fats are those that are solid at room temperature. Sources of saturated fats include the fat on animal products, most red meats, lard, cream, butter and cheese.


Trans Fats
Trans fats are a strand of saturated fats that the FDA is currently forcing food companies to phase out. Trans fats are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils. This process is often completed in the hope of creating a particular consistency or increasing shelf life for certain products. Sources of trans fats include frozen foods, pie crusts, margarine, ready to use icing, some microwave foods, some cakes, crackers and cookies. Trans fats may also naturally occur in dairy and meat.


Quick note: If eaten in excess, saturated and trans fats are said to have a negative impact on your health.

Unsaturated Fats
Unsaturated fats are chemically defined as fat molecules that do have one or more double bond and can be broken up into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature. Sources of saturated fats include olive and vegetable oils. Unsaturated fats can also be found in lean meat and seafood products, avocados and nuts.


When it comes to healthy fat consumption, it really is as simple as being mindful of the quantity and quality of the fats you are eating. There is often back and forth when it comes to good and bad fats between different fitness communities, depending on which regime they are following. Most medical professionals will recommend the following:

  • Saturated Fats: Cut down where possible
  • Trans Fats: Cut out where possible
  • Unsaturated Fats: Add a small portion to each meal unless directed otherwise by a medical professional

The Best Fat Burner: Testing Your Own Cholesterol Levels

At this point of the article, I hope you realize that having high cholesterol doesn’t necessarily mean you are overweight, just as having a normal cholesterol level doesn’t mean that you are perfectly healthy. There are no visible symptoms of high cholesterol so the only way to know is to get tested.

You can develop high cholesterol at any age which why it is so important to screen your cholesterol levels on a regular-ish basis. (From the age of 20, you should get a cholesterol test every 4-6 years. By the age of 40, you should get a cholesterol test every 5 years.)

You should especially get tested if you are living with any of the following risk factors:

  • You have a strong family history of heart disease
  • You have a first-degree relative who has suffered a heart attack or a stroke undergone bypass surgery
  • You have undergone bypass surgery
  • You are overweight or obese
  • You drink alcohol and smoke frequently
  • You lead a sedentary lifestyle
  • You suffer from diabetes, kidney disease, polycystic ovary syndrome or an underactive thyroid gland

The Challenge

Until I began working with LetsGetChecked, I had never tested or even thought of testing my cholesterol levels, but I am happy that I did.

As someone who has always followed a plant-based and doesn’t eat meat or dairy, I thought that there was no chance that any of my levels could be off. I was wrong.

The LetsGetChecked Cholesterol Test offers comprehensive insight into your lipid level by measuring:

Total Triglycerides
Triglycerides are the most common form of fats in the body, Excess calories, alcohol, and sugars in the body are converted to triglycerides and stored in the body as fat. As we mentioned earlier, triglycerides make up the fat cells that are stored in adipose tissue all over the body and make up what might appear as excess fat.

Cholesterol is a waxy lipid produced in the liver and found in every cell of the body. There are two main types of cholesterol, one is in the form of HDL (high-density cholesterol) and LDL (low-density cholesterol).

HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein)
HDL is known as “good cholesterol”. HDL transports excess bad cholesterol to your liver to be expelled from the body. Foods that are high in high-density lipoprotein are “unsaturated fats” which we spoke about earlier.

LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein)
LDL is known as “bad cholesterol”. LDL transports cholesterol to various parts of your body. It may build up in the arteries causing them to become hard and narrow. LDL is the most common cause of atherosclerosis, high levels of LDL in the blood are often attributed to lifestyle factors such as a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet.

HDL % of Total Cholesterol
The HDL % of total cholesterol refers to the amount of “good cholesterol” in the body which can combat low-density lipoproteins or “bad cholesterol”. The higher your HDL % of total cholesterol, the better.

Prior to taking the test, I never thought that I would see an out of range level. I exercise regularly and eat very healthily (in my opinion). However, I do drink alcohol moderately and eat a large volume of what could be considered as “good fats” through fish, olive oil, avocados and nuts.

Sometimes, we can think that lots of a good thing is an even better thing, but this isn’t always the case. Luckily for me, my levels were not far enough out of range to induce panic.


The “challenge” involved here will be ensuring that I don’t take fat, whatever type of fat it might be, for granted following my deep dive into what fat is and how it affects our physiological function. It is important to be mindful not of how many calories you are eating but the types of calories you are eating and how they will affect your overall health.

There might be the same number of calories in a fillet of salmon and a small cupcake, but we know now that one will provide essential nutrients and the building blocks for cell functions, whereas the other will leave us on a sugar high, followed by a crash and simply leaving us wanting more.

Typically I tend not to count calories but knowing the difference between a saturated and unsaturated fat, and attempting to avoid trans fats as much as possible will be my mini challenge. In the next three weeks, I plan to re-test my levels and see if slight lifestyle tweaks can make a big difference in my levels.

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