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Monday Medical: Heart healthy fats

Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

February is for heart health, which means it’s a good time to talk about fats. But don’t worry: eating a heart-healthy diet does not mean you need to eliminate all fat.

“Fats are really important,” said Laura Stout, a registered dietitian nutritionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “They help us absorb fat-soluble vitamins and minerals, they help build our cell membranes, and the good ones can help reduce inflammation. You just need to get them in the right balance.”

Stout gives the skinny on the different types of fat and how they affect your heart below.

Trans fats

It used to be important to keep an eye out for trans fats, which were added to foods to keep them from going bad, but the U.S. has banned these dangerous fats. “Since they’ve been banned, you don’t have to worry about them like you used to,” Stout said.

Saturated fats

These fats are usually solid at room temperature, and can be found in butter, bacon grease, coconut oil, palm oil, red meat, milk, ice cream and cheese. Research shows they can increase inflammation and put people at a higher risk for heart disease, so the American Heart Association recommends limiting these fats to less than 10% of your daily calories.

These fats may also contribute to the buildup of plaque, in part because the more saturated fat you eat, the harder it may be to move the fat from your bloodstream into your cells.

“We release nitric oxide to push the saturated fats through,” Stout said. “But if we eat too much saturated fat, they don’t push through as easily and plaque may build up.”

At a glance

Registered dietitian nutritionist Laura Stout’s tips for adding more healthy fats to your diet.

  • Decrease saturated fats. Replace some red meat with beans, nuts, poultry and fish; switch from whole milk to lower fat versions. Don’t replace saturated fats with refined carbohydrates and sugary foods.
  • Eat omega-3 fats every day. Choose from fatty fishes such as salmon and mackerel, as well as walnuts, ground flax seeds, and flaxseed, canola and soybean oils.
  • Cook and bake with olive oil or canola oil instead of butter.
  • Eat more avocados: Add to sandwiches and salads, or make guacamole.
  • Up the nuts. Add nuts to vegetable dishes, use them instead of breadcrumbs on chicken or fish, and make your own trail mix.
  • Snack on olives. This low-calorie snack is high in healthy monounsaturated fats.
  • Dress your own salad. Use olive, flaxseed or sesame oils, and mix in vinegar and mustard.

Remember that you don’t have to eliminate saturated fats entirely.

“It’s okay to have them,” Stout said. “But you need to think about limiting them. Eating eggs and bacon for breakfast, a hamburger at lunch and a steak for dinner is just way too much.”

Monounsaturated fats

These heart-healthy fats are liquid at room temperature and include olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, avocados and most nuts.

They may improve your overall cholesterol profile and decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke. And they’re common, along with polyunsaturated fats, in the Mediterranean diet.

“The Mediterranean diet is regarded to this day as a really healthful diet choice,” Stout said.

Polyunsaturated fats

These heart-healthy fats come from walnuts and flaxseeds; sunflower, corn and canola oils; and fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines. They are also common in the Mediterranean diet, and include the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

“These are the ones that are essential for the body,” Stout said. “We can’t make them, so we need to get them from food. They’re really important because they’re used for blood clotting, muscle movement and reducing inflammations.”

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have also been shown to improve people’s overall cholesterol profile. Keep in mind that a number of foods contain both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

And don’t forget the fiber.

“Fiber, in combination with the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, helps lower your risk of heart diseases and other chronic diseases,” Stout said.

Fats are important part of a healthy diet.

“We all agree that fats are good, it’s just which fats do we want,” Stout said. “For most people, that means incorporating more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and reducing saturated fats.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.


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