It’s true that some fats are better for you than others and some can actually be good for your heart’s health. Good fats are called unsaturated (monounsaturated or polyunsaturated) and can lower total cholesterol and bad (LDL) cholesterol. Saturated fats and trans fats are not helpful and can raise cholesterol levels and put you at greater risk for heart disease. All types of fats are high in calories. The right amount of good fats can play an important role in your heart’s health without adding extra pounds to the rest of you.
Fats are needed by the body to help with the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K. Because fats take a while to digest, or leave the stomach, they can help us not get hungry between meals. Fats also add flavor to meals so we need fat in our diet but we want to choose the best types.
Sources of good fats include:
- olive oil
- canola oil
- peanut oil
- vegetable oils like corn and safflower
- nuts and seeds.
One of the good fats is omega-3 and is found in fatty or oily fish such as salmon or tuna, walnuts, ground flax seed and flax seed oil. Omega-3 helps reduce plague build-up in the arteries and reduce triglycerides (an unhealthy fat) in the blood.
Saturated fats are the “not so good for you” fats and include
- fat in red meat
- skin on poultry
- high fat dairy products such as whole or 2% milk, cheese, cream, butter and ice cream.
- Oils such as coconut and palm oil also are saturated fats.
Trans fats (man-made saturated fats) are found in stick margarine, and snack foods like chips, crackers, cookies and pastries. Fried foods from restaurants also may have trans fats in them.
Check the Nutrition Facts Label on packaged foods to learn how much total fat and saturated fat is in a serving. Be sure to check the serving size.
Total fat includes the saturated fat and any trans fats listed on a label. The goal is to have no trans fats and less than about 20 grams of saturated fat a day. This is a general recommendation and is 10% of calories in an 1800 calorie diet.
The amount of total fat that is needed every day depends on your physical activity and calorie needs but generally 60-70 grams of total fat is enough to provide healthy fats without too many calories. This includes any saturated fat consumed. Sixty grams of total fat is about 540 calories a day from fat. Ideally the fat is spread throughout the day in three meals and one to two snacks.
Tips for adding good fats include:
- using olive oil or canola oil in cooking or as part of a salad dressing
- Have slices of avocado on a salad or sandwich
- Sprinkle seeds or nuts on cereal or salad
- Have peanut butter on an apple
- Adding 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed in oatmeal or add to a smoothie
- Have salmon or other fatty fish twice a week
Tips for lowering saturated fats include:
- using fat free or 1% milk
- choose lean cuts of red meat such as the round or the loin
- eat red meat in limited amounts and add more beans and plant-based proteins
- decrease snack foods and backed goods
- increase fruits and vegetables
- read food labels to make lower fat choices
An eating plan that is excellent for overall health as well as heart health is the DASH diet. Originally created to help lower high blood pressure (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension), it provides guidelines for a lower fat, higher plant-based diet. Two good resources for more information on good fats and the DASH eating plan can be found at The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and WebMd. There are books on the DASH Eating Plan. Check at your local library or online.
When it comes to connecting good fats to your heart’s health, small changes can add up to big health rewards. Savor the flavor of healthy eating.
If you need help lowering your cholesterol, triglycerides, or LDL cholesterol, please contact me at Nutrition Specialists, PC.