Saturated and trans fats are leading concerns in the world of heart health. Found in animal fats and processed foods, these types of fats can increase your risk for heart disease over the long-term. This is especially the case if you eat large amounts of unhealthy fats and fail to diet and exercise. When many people kick-start a new diet, they often eliminate fat because it is notoriously high in calories. Still, there is such thing as a good fat. While such fats still need to be eaten in small amounts because of their calorie content, they can actually boost your overall health when consumed in moderation. Heart-healthy fats fall into three categories: omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Work with your dietitian or doctor to work these fats into your eating routine as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids may lower your risk for developing clogged arteries, and subsequently, coronary artery disease. Eating omega-3s can also help prevent high blood pressure and heart arrhythmias. Such benefits are vital to your overall heart health, and may prevent the onset of a heart attack or stroke. The American Diabetes Association recommends eating fish two to three times per week because this is the best source of these heart-healthy fats. The best fish are:
- Rainbow trout
Cooking and preparation is just as important as choosing fish. Your efforts may prove futile if you pick a heart-healthy fish and end up frying it and topping with tartar sauce. Baking, broiling and grilling are the healthiest cooking methods, and they also preserve the natural taste of the fish. Instead of adding salt, top your fish with herbs and lemon juice. If a tuna fish sandwich is your forte, make sure you avoid whole-fat mayonnaise.
Omega-3s are also prevalent in some plant-based foods, such as walnuts, canola oil and soybeans. Supplements containing these fatty acids, such as fish oil capsules, are other options. While these can support heart health, the body doesn’t metabolize the fats as well as it does from fish. If you’re new to fish, you may need to experiment with various recipes until you find your favorite. Choose the freshest selections possible to avoid any “fishy” taste.
Fish isn’t the only source of heart-healthy fats. Surprisingly, there are numerous plant sources, too. Certain items contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. These types of unsaturated fats are effective in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. In fact, if you already have high cholesterol, adding this healthy fat to your diet can actually decrease it. Lowering your cholesterol also decreases your risk for heart disease. As an added bonus, monounsaturated fats also promote good blood glucose. This helps to prevent and maintain type 2 diabetes.
Sources of monounsaturated fats include:
- Sesame seeds
- Some cooking oils such as: canola, peanut and olive
- Peanut butter
Swapping butter and vegetable oil for canola or olive oil is a good way to gain monounsaturated fats in your diet. Plus, you will decrease your intake of saturated fat by avoiding the use of butter. You can add avocadoes, seeds and nuts to salads, or eat small handfuls as snacks. Peanut butter is a rich source of this heart-healthy fat that is also perhaps the most affordable. The key is to find the right peanut butter. Look for natural peanut butter, as this doesn’t have the added fat and sugars of conventional jars. Better yet, make your own peanut butter out of freshly ground peanuts. If your diet allows, add a pinch of salt to bring out the flavor.
Polyunsaturated fats are primarily found in plants. Like monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats also improve blood cholesterol. They also help to maintain blood glucose levels that helps prevent type 2 diabetes. Such fats are helpful any time of day, but may be especially helpful as complements to foods that are high in sugar.
This type of fat is found in:
- Sesame seeds, oils and pastes
- Salad dressings
- Cooking oils: corn, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Soft margarine (found in tubs)
Like monounsaturated fats, the best way to ensure polyunsaturated fat consumption is by swapping common fatty foods for heart-healthy versions. Trade in your regular cooking oil or butter, and look for salad dressings that contain polyunsaturated fat. While mayonnaise and soft margarine are sources of this fat, it’s important to use these in limited amounts. They are both high in calories, and some versions may even contain saturated fat.
Contrary to popular belief, fat is actually an essential nutrient. The key is not to cut out fat altogether, but to choose heart-healthy versions instead. As with other healthy foods, such fats should be consumed in moderation along with a physically active lifestyle. Talk to your doctor if you have risk factors for cardiovascular disease.