The Truth about Fats
Fats can tend to get a bad reputation in our diet however, fat is an essential nutrient in health that gives you energy and helps you to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K. There are three types of fats in our diets: unsaturated, saturated and trans, and all three have a different effect on our cardiovascular health. When it comes to fats in our diet, the most important thing is to focus on choosing the right types of fat. Eating healthy fats in place of unhealthy fats in moderate amounts can help to lower your risk of heart disease, whereas a diet high in unhealthy fats greatly increases your risk for heart disease.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Unsaturated fats are the healthiest fat for cardiovascular health. When used in place of other fats in your diet, unsaturated fats can help to lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol and risk of heart disease. Unsaturated fats are found in foods such as:
- Oils: canola, olive, safflower, sunflower oils and soft margarines made from these oils
- Nuts & seeds: almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds and sesame seeds.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a specific form of unsaturated fat which have many health benefits and are extremely beneficial in lowering cardiovascular disease risk. Omega-3 fatty acids are mainly found in foods such as:
- Fish: Fatty fish such as salmon, trout, herring, mackerel and sardines are highest in these healthy fats however all fish are a healthy source of lean protein. Try to include fish in your diet two times per week.
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
- Omega 3 eggs fortified with DHA
Saturated fats increase your risk for heart disease by increasing you LDL (bad) cholesterol when eaten in large amounts. Saturated fats are naturally found in many foods, specifically animal products. Examples of saturated fats are:
- Meats: fatty beef, pork, lamb, poultry with skin
- Dairy: butter, ghee, cream, cheese, ice cream, full- fat milk and yogurt
- Palm oil
- Coconut oil*
*Coconut oil is a type of saturated fat that has received a lot of attention in the media recently. Coconut oil has been promoted to be a heart healthy fat with endless amounts of health benefits however, there is insufficient evidence in research to support these health claims. The bottom line is that coconut oil is a saturated fat and should be used sparingly in a healthy diet.
Trans (hydrogenated) fats are the worst fat when it comes to increasing your risk for heart disease. Trans fats increase your cardiovascular disease risk by both increasing your LDL (bad) cholesterol and decreasing your HDL (good) cholesterol. Trans fats can be found in a variety of foods but are mainly found in commercially fried foods and bakery products. Other examples of trans fats include:
- Hard margarine
- Pie crusts
- Fried foods
- Some brands of microwave popcorn
- Some coffee flavouring
It is essential to be aware of what types of foods contain trans fats due to their extremely negative effect on heart health. When you are grocery shopping, read the nutrition facts table and focus on including foods that have little or no trans fats.
Putting this into practice:
- When cooking, use vegetable based fats such as olive, canola, or sunflower oil
- Choose lean cuts of meat such as skinless chicken or turkey, beef or pork tenderloin, lean or extra lean ground beef and ground chicken or turkey
- Avoid foods made with trans fats such as fried foods, frozen prepared foods, snack foods, pastries and any other foods made with shortening or hard margarine
- Eat fish twice per week and focus on having fattier fish such as salmon, trout, herring, mackerel or sardines
- Use avocado on your sandwich instead of mayo
- Choose cheeses with 20% or less milk fat (M.F.)
- Use soft margarine (such as Becel) on your toast instead of butter
- Snack on a handful of unsalted nuts instead of chips or popcorn
- Add nuts or seeds to your salads
- Choose 0% regular or greek yogurt as a creamy delicious snack
- Choose 1% or skim milk to drink
- Use 1% or 2% milk in your coffee instead of cream
- Use 2% or lower milk in cream soup recipes instead of cream
- Read the nutrition facts table of foods you are choosing and aim to include foods lowest in both saturated and trans fats
By Sydney St. James
Registered Dietitian at Cardio Connect
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