When it comes to eating what’s best for your heart, there are good options and there are bad. While fats of all kind are frequently considered the macronutrient to avoid, not all fatty foods are bad for you. In fact, most people should probably be consuming more of select healthy fats.
The Fatty Facts
Let’s start with the good fats — ones that will actually benefit your heart health when eaten.
Healthy fats are naturally found in the foods we eat everyday. This includes omega-3 fatty acids, a naturally occurring fat that can help prevent clogged arteries, increase energy, and reduce occurrences of heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, cancer, and an array of other health concerns. Oily fish such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel are all high in omega-3s, as are walnuts, spinach, and ground flaxseed. Fish oil capsules or drops that contain high levels of omega-3 can be purchased at the pharmacy.
Another healthy option is monounsaturated fats. These fats are most likely to be found in the oils sitting next to your stove: canola, olive, avocado, and peanut oils. They’re also found in nuts and pit based foods such as avocados and olives. Likewise, polyunsaturated fats such as sunflower, sesame, and soybean oils can help lower the bad levels of cholesterol in your body. The omega-3 fatty acid foods mentioned above are all considered polyunsaturated fats.
Unsaturated fats are better for you as they replace the less healthy saturated fats in your diet. But just as unsaturated fats lower cholesterol levels in your bloodstream, bad fats do the opposite and increase cholesterol. High cholesterol levels are considered a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Unhealthy fats can be broken into two categories: saturated fats and trans fats.
Saturated fats include a lot of animal and animal byproducts, including beef, butter, cream, pork, and margarine. It can also be found in less healthy oils such as coconut and palm oils.
Most of the trans fat in your diet is formed through an industrial process where hydrogen is added to vegetable oil in order for foods to have a longer shelf life. Trans fat oils are often used in deep fryers as it does not need to be cleaned as frequently as pure vegetable oil.
Given the nature of how it’s prepared and its ingredients, any fast food and baked goods are likely to be high in either trans or saturated fat.
Excluding and Eliminating Bad Fats
You don’t need to remove 100% of the saturated and trans fats from your diet. You should, however, make an effort to reduce the amount you consume, and trade out these fats for healthy ones, when possible.
With meat products, select options such as lean chicken breast, extra lean ground beef or extra lean ground turkey, and other meats that have their fat trimmed pre-purchase. When preparing the side dishes to accompany them, be mindful of the oils you use to fry vegetables. While vegetables braised in butter may be delicious, this is a less healthy choice than simply frying the same food with olive or peanut oil. An even better option is to steam or bake vegetables to maintain their natural nutrients and flavor. The same can be said for salad dressings, where opting for an oil-based topping can be a big health saver.
As for desserts, try cutting out the fried and the fatty. High and full fat dairy products contain the most saturated fat, and low or fat-free options are best. If you’re an ice cream lover, try opting for sorbet, a chilly and delicious solution that is fruit-based rather than dairy-based. Though eggs can be an important source of protein, limit the number of yolks you consume, and try to include more of the whites in baking.
Overall, a healthy diet is all about moderation. With the few compromises listed above, you’ll ensure your diet is better suited to a healthy heart — and a healthy all around lifestyle.