Lucie Maquire Kramer
What better month to focus on heart health than February. Hearts will be plastered on every greeting card, chocolate box and jewelry advertisement to promote Cupid and his sweethearts.
Let's take advantage of all this attention on our impressive cardiac muscle to outline the importance that fats in our diet have for heart health. Americans have actually reduced the intake of calories from fats from 45 percent in the 1960s to 33 percent now. Experts point out that it's the type of fat that impacts our cardiovascular health the most. Here's a breakdown starting with the worst fats and finishing with the heart healthy fats.
Trans fats are a category of fats that are artificially created by partially hydrogenating an unsaturated oil yielding a solid, extremely shelf-stable fat, such as those in packaged baked goods and crackers. Trans fats wreak havoc on our cardiovascular system by raising harmful LDL, lowering beneficial HDL and triggering inflammation.
By eliminating artificial trans fats from our diets alone, Americans could prevent approximately 200,000 heart attacks and associated deaths each year. While food labels list trans fats, a quantity is shown only if a serving of the food contains more than 0.5g of trans fats. There is no safe amount of trans fat, so to completely avoid them, read the ingredients. If any ingredients are "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated," then definitely skip that product. Fried foods in fast food restaurants are also a common source of trans fats.
Saturated fats, those found in animals, seafood and a few plant sources (coconut and palm oils), are non-essential, so our bodies make all the saturated fats we need. We actually don't have to eat any. Saturated fats have undesirable effects on our cardiovascular system, primarily by raising our LDL cholesterol, which is the "bad" cholesterol in our blood. It is best to reduce saturated fat and focus on the healthy fats. Choose lean meats or vegetable proteins, low-fat dairy and olive or canola oils instead of butter or margarine.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils, fish, walnuts and flax seeds. One type of polyunsaturated fats that gets a lot of attention is anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, which are found in fatty fish, flax seeds, walnuts, and canola oil. Omega-3 fats are essential, because our bodies cannot make them. They are crucial for brain development and maintenance.
Monounsaturated fats have a powerful protective effect on our cardiovascular system. Monounsaturated fats are found in canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, nuts and seeds, and avocados. Both poly- and monounsaturated fats do the opposite of trans fats; they decrease LDL, increase HDL and have an anti-inflammatory effect. Most Americans do not get enough unsaturated fats.
- Replace trans fats and saturated fats with heart-healthy poly- and monounsaturated fats, such as fatty fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and canola and olive oils.
- Strictly avoid foods with trans fats
- For information, visit the American Heart Association at http://www.heart.org.