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February 2013

The New Fat Rules: How to Make Heart Smart Choices

“Low fat” is out and “healthy fats” are in.  Simply going low fat may not improve your health.  If the fat is replaced with refined grains and sugar the risk for heart disease may actually increase! When it comes to making heart smart choices, the emphasis should be on moderate intake of healthy fats. But keep in mind it is the whole package, not just a single dietary component that will make your diet healthy

Healthy versus Unhealthy Fats
Fats are vital to brain functioning, help us feel full, and add flavor to food.  Moderate fat instead of low fat is better for your heart, provided the fat is a healthy fat.

Fats considered to be healthy are mono- and polyunsaturated fats.  These fats are from plant sources, are liquid at room temperature, and include olive, canola and peanut oils. The especially heart-healthy omega-3 fat found predominately in fish is also in this group. 

Saturated fats are thought to be unhealthy and should be kept to a minimum.  They are solid at room temperature, and found mainly in meat and dairy products, although palm and coconut oils, and cocoa butter are also saturated fats. 

Another type of fat is hydrogenated or trans fats.  This fat is usually from vegetable oils that are chemically altered to make the oil solid at room temperature.  This fat is at least as unhealthy as saturated fats and should be avoided completely.  Packaged baked goods and vegetable oil spreads often have trans fat.

Make the Heart-Smart Choice
Current Dietary Guidelines focus on healthy fats and calorie balance.  Too much food, even the healthiest choices, will diminish the positive effects of a healthy diet.  The amount of calories eaten each day actually determines how much fat we should have.  Since it is difficult to keep track of calories, focus on an overall healthy eating pattern including:

  • Minimize processed food to limit trans or hydrogenated fats.  Check the food label, if “hydrogenated” is in the ingredients the food contains trans fat which should be avoided completely! Beware of margarine and spreads, try olive oil instead.
  • Have fish a few times a week to boost omega-3 fat.  Include poultry and moderate your intake of lean red meat.  Choose non-fat or 1% dairy products.  This will keep saturated fat intake down. 
  • A little goes a long way with fat.  Use olive or canola oil moderately to increase healthy monounsaturated fats.
  • Include a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits and whole grains in moderation.
  • Avoid fried foods and added sugars. Use liquid oils instead of butter, or a vegetable oil spread when cooking.
  • Be mindful of portion size to keep calories in balance and to maintain a healthy weight.

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