February is American Heart Health Month. According to the Center for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. The key to a lifetime of heart health is to commit to a healthy lifestyle. In most cases, heart disease can be prevented.
The type of fat in your diet can have an effect on your heart health. Some fats are good for your heart while others can be harmful. The four types of dietary fat are:
1. Saturated Fat – comes mainly from animal sources of food. You’ll find it in meat, poultry, and dairy products. Coconut oil and palm oil are two non-animal sources of saturated fat. Saturated fats are often solid at room temperature. You will also find saturated fat in many baked goods and fried foods. Too much saturated fat in your diet can lead to clogged arteries which puts you at high risk for heart disease. To reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet choose lean meats, remove the skin from poultry, cook more from home to avoid the saturated fat found in baked goods and fried foods, and choose low-fat options when it comes to dairy products.
2. Monounsaturated Fat is considered a heart healthy fat. The right amount of this type of fat in your diet can have a positive effect on your heart health as monounsaturated fats are known to reduce your bad cholesterol levels. Olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, and sesame oil are considered monounsaturated fats.
3. Polyunsaturated Fat is also considered a heart healthy fat. In additional to reducing your bad cholesterol levels, this is where you’ll find your Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. These are essential fats your body needs, but does not produce on its own. Soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, and fatty fish like, salmon, mackerel, herring, and trout are sources of polyunsaturated fat.
4. Trans Fat is used by many food companies. It is easy to use, inexpensive, and lasts for a long time. It produces a desirable texture for many processed foods. Sounds good, right? Wrong! Trans fats raise your bad cholesterol levels and lowers your good cholesterol levels. Since that is the exact opposite of what we want to have happen, trans fats should be avoided. Trans fats are mostly found in fried foods, baked goods, and other processed foods. Perhaps the easiest way to avoid trans fat is to read the nutrition facts label on the back of food packages. If you see the words “partially hydrogenated oil” then the product contains trans fat. Shortening and margarine usually fall into the trans fat category.
Fat is a healthy part of every diet, but all types of fat are high in calories and should be used in moderation. Follow these three steps and you are on your way to a healthier heart:
- Choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats most of the time by cooking with olive oil or canola oil.
- Opt for lean cuts of meat, remove the skin from poultry, and choose low-fat dairy products to reduce your consumption of saturated fats.
- Eat limited amounts of processed foods that contain trans fat.
Certified Nutrition Educator