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Protein, Fat, and Cholesterol

What is protein?

Protein is the nutrient made from building blocks called amino acids. The body uses protein to build and repair tissue as well as to perform other special roles.

Protein is mainly found in meats (chicken, fish, pork, turkey, and beef) and meat alternatives such as cheese, eggs, peanut butter, and tofu. Protein foods can contain unhealthy amounts of fat, so choose lean meats (those with "round" or "loin" in their names), skinless meats, egg substitutes or egg whites, and low-fat cheeses. Two or more servings of fish per week (not including commercially fried fish fillets) are recommended.

How much protein should I eat?

For most people, 4-6 ounces of meat is adequate for a day. The size of 3 ounces of meat equals the size of a deck of cards. If you have a problem with your kidneys, a protein restriction might be necessary. Ask your dietitian how much protein is right for you. Eating protein does not increase or maintain your blood sugar, but it may affect insulin secretion.

Why do I have to limit the amount of fat and cholesterol in my diet?

Fat and cholesterol are linked to heart disease, cancer, and obesity. People with diabetes often have high cholesterol levels and are at much higher risk for heart disease. Fat slows down the absorption of carbohydrate; but beyond that, fat and cholesterol have very little effect on your immediate blood sugar levels. Talk to your registered dietitian if you want more information about how fat and carbohydrate work together. There are four types of dietary fats. Two of these — saturated fats and trans fatty acids — are very harmful to your health. Trans fatty acids should be minimized, and less than 7% of your calories should come from saturated fat. Saturated fats are found in butter, fat back, bacon, cream cheese, and sour cream.

Trans fatty acids are found in stick margarine; desserts such as cookies, pastries, and doughnuts; snack foods such as crackers and chips; and many commercially fried foods. Trans fatty acids are identified on a food's ingredient list as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, or as trans fatty acids in very small amounts, and need to be avoided.

Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats and cholesterol

The other two fats are mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. They can be healthy if used in moderation. These fats are found in nuts, oils, olives, salad dressings, and tub margarine.

Cholesterol is another type of fat. There are two sources of cholesterol. The body produces some cholesterol, and it comes from animal foods such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. Foods such as peanut butter and olive oil are high in fat, but because they come from plants, have no cholesterol. Generally, the higher the fat content in an animal food, the higher the cholesterol content.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL)

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is called the "good cholesterol" because it helps remove the low-density lipoprotein (LDL), called the "bad cholesterol," from the body. Exercise and diet can help increase the HDL level and lower the LDL level. To reach the goal LDL levels, medications, such as statins, are often used to not only help lower the LDL levels, but also prevent a heart attack from occurring.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 1/29/2013...#11652