Unraveling the tie between fat, cholesterol


March 08, 1994|By Colleen Pierre, R.D. | Colleen Pierre, R.D.,Special to The Sun

Chocolate, despite its high saturated fat content, won't raise your cholesterol level, according to a study done by P.M. Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D. of the Nutrition Department of Penn State University.

Untangling the fat-cholesterol mystery has been a long process. Answers become more clear as research becomes more refined. Years ago we thought that high blood cholesterol came from eating too much cholesterol.

With time, researchers learned that saturated fats, such as butter, beef fat, lard and coconut oil, raise blood cholesterol much more than the actual cholesterol you eat. Now, more detailed studies show there are several different saturated fats, and their effects on blood cholesterol differ.

The Penn State study put healthy young men on a high milk chocolate diet and compared that to diets high in butter, cocoa butter and cocoa butter plus butter. The butter diet raised cholesterol the most. The milk chocolate diet and the two diets containing cocoa butter did not raise cholesterol significantly. All the chocolate diets contain stearic acid, the saturated fat being tested for its cholesterol-raising effects.

Further studies will be done in an attempt to repeat the findings. Chocolate still contains lots of fat and calories that affect your weight and cancer risks, so use it in moderation. Nine little Hershey's kisses contain 221 calories and 12 grams of fat.

And speaking of fat and calories, Peter Pan now makes a lower-fat peanut butter. Called "Smart Choice," a two-tablespoon serving contains 12 grams of fat, compared to 17 grams of fat for regular. But check out the "Nutrition Facts" food label. Both peanut butters contain 190 calories per serving. As with many reduced-fat foods, manufacturers make up the flavor differences with sugar. And all those calories still count. Use it sparingly!

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

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