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Which Fats Are Best for Your Heart Health?

Which Fats Are Best for Your Heart Health?

For decades, we’ve been told about the harmful effects of eating a diet high in fat, including an increased risk of obesity and high cholesterol. However, this is only partially true. While certain fats will have a detrimental impact on your heart health and overall health, other fats are essential to a well-balanced diet. We call them essential fatty acids. The key is understanding which fats to consume. This will allow you to limit your consumption of harmful fats and replace them with more heart-healthy fats.

The Connection Between Fat and Cholesterol

Cholesterol gets a lot of bad publicity, but people are often surprised to learn that it’s actually necessary for our existence. Cholesterol is a substance made in the liver that’s vital to human life. We need a small amount of blood cholesterol because the body uses it to:

These are important functions, all dependent on the presence of cholesterol. But too much of a good thing isn’t good at all.

Before discussing the difference between good and bad fats, it’s important to explain the role fat plays in your cholesterol levels. Your body needs certain cholesterol types to function properly, as explained above, but cholesterol can potentially be harmful to your health when you produce an excessive amount of it.

There are two main types of cholesterol:

To promote optimal heart health, you want to maintain low LDL cholesterol levels and high levels of HDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol because, along with inflammation, it contributes to fatty buildups in arteries (atherosclerosis). This narrows the arteries and increases the risk for heart attackstroke, and peripheral artery disease.

HDL cholesterol can be thought of as the “good” cholesterol because a healthy level may protect against heart attack and stroke.

HDL carries LDL (bad) cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where the LDL is broken down and passed from the body. Think of HDL as tiny dump trucks that carry bad LDL away from the arteries. But HDL cholesterol doesn’t completely eliminate LDL cholesterol. HDL carries only one-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol.

Low HDL cholesterol levels may be a sign that you’re at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, and metabolic syndrome.

The types of fats you consume will significantly impact the type of cholesterol your body produces. By replacing bad fats with good fats, you can help maintain healthy HDL and LDL cholesterol levels.

Good Fats vs. Bad Fats for Heart Health

There are two different types of fat:

Unsaturated Fats are Good Fats that Promote Heart Health

Which Fats Are Best for Your Heart Health?Unsaturated fats are considered to be “good fats” because they promote heart health. Benefits of unsaturated fats include:

There are two types of unsaturated fats:

Common sources of monounsaturated fats include:

The following foods provide good sources of polyunsaturated fats:

Saturated Fats Should Be Limited to Very Small Quantities

steak being cooked on a grill - a source of saturated fatSaturated fats are considered “bad fats” because they can increase your harmful LDL cholesterol levels and be hazardous to your heart health. While you don’t need to eliminate saturated fats from your diet entirely, the American Heart Association recommends you limit them to 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat.

For example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 100 – 120 of them should come from saturated fat. That’s about 11-13 grams of saturated fat per day. An ounce of cheddar cheese has 6 grams of saturated fat. One egg has about 2 grams of saturated fat.

You want to replace saturated fats with healthier unsaturated fats instead of substituting carb-heavy food items, especially processed carbohydrates like white flour and sugar, which can also cause a lot of damage to the heart.

Foods that tend to be high in saturated fat include:

Trans Fats Are the Most Harmful Fats for Heart Health

Trans fats are considered the worst type of fat for your heart health because it raises LDL cholesterol levels while lowering HDL levels. Also, trans fat can cause inflammation, which increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

In recent years, the FDA has taken steps to get food manufacturers to eliminate trans fats from their products. Therefore, you’re much less likely to see them in the items you purchase due to these new regulations. However, it’s still a good idea to check nutrition labels – if they list ingredients such as “partially hydrogenated oils” or indicate the product contains up to 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, avoid purchasing the product. No amount of trans fat is considered safe, and it’s recommended that you take steps to eliminate them from your diet.

Common sources of trans fat include:

Tips for Including More Healthy Fats in Your Diet

You don’t need to count grams of fat at each meal. Instead, eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans. Shoot for two or more fatty fish servings per week while keeping your dairy intake in moderation and eliminating or at least limiting red meat and especially processed red meat intake to minimum quantities. Avoid fried or processed foods if at all possible.

You can easily make these adjustments without radically altering your diet. The following tips will help ensure your diet contains the right kinds of fats:

What about cholesterol in foods like shellfish

Only animal products contain cholesterol itself, as a liver is needed for its production. However, cholesterol content should be less of a concern than saturated fat content. Many researchers and physicians believe that eating cholesterol-rich foods such as shrimp and lobster may not affect the cholesterol that is in your blood to a large extent. The body creates cholesterol in amounts much larger than what you can eat, so completely avoiding high cholesterol foods won’t affect your blood cholesterol levels very much. It’s more important to watch saturated fat, processed carbs like white flour and sugar, and trans fat.

For great salad dressing recipes:

South Denver Cardiology Associates Can Help You Construct a Heart-Healthy Diet

At South Denver Cardiology Associates, we have various special programs to help you control your nutrition to improve your heart health. These resources are available to everyone in the Denver community. You don’t have to be a patient to utilize these valuable programs.

A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can help you find ways to make real changes, identify potential barriers, and create plans to help you succeed. Call 303-744-1065 option #2 to schedule an appointment.



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