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Heart Healthy Fats

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Heart Healthy Fats
All fats are not bad. The key to good health lies is the balance of fats in your diet. Learn to identify heart healthy fats and ways to include them in your daily diet.

Food contains several kinds of fats, some healthy and heart friendly whereas a few are harmful for health. All fats do not work in a similar fashion. We need to consume certain amounts of good fat so as to maintain a balanced dietary intake. Curtailing fat completely is surely not called for! In fact, the key to good health lies in the mix of fats that you eat. Cholesterol is needed by our body to preserve the integrity of myelin sheath within the brain.


Facts about dietary fats

Fat is essential for our body as it supports numerous body functions.


  • A few vitamins require fat to dissolve and to provide nourishment to the body.
  • Our body makes its own fat from the excess calories that we consume.
  • A few fats known as the dietary fats are consumed in the form of plant or animal food.
  • Excess dietary fat can cause diseases like type 2 diabetes, Atherosclerosis - arteriosclerotic vascular disease (or simply put it is the thickening of arteries) , heart diseases, obesity, cardiovascular diseases etc.

Dietary fats are classified into healthy and harmful dietary fat. All foods have a mixture of fats; they are classified based on the predominance of a certain type of fat.


Heart healthy fats

Heart healthy dietary fat comprises unsaturated fat:

Monounsaturated fat: Found in oils and other food items. It helps to improve good cholesterol or HDL (high density lipoprotein) in the body. American Heart Association considers that HDL values lower than 50 mg/dL for women (it is 40 mg/dL for men) can accentuate the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Sources of monounsaturated fat include:


  • Avocado
  • Peanut and almond butter
  • Vegetable oil like canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil
  • Nuts like almonds, pistachios, pecans, peanuts, cashews.

Polyunsaturated fat (omega 6): Found in oils and plant based foods. Reduces risk for heart disease and promotes good cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats can help lower your total cholesterol level.
Sources of polyunsaturated fat include:


  • vegetable oil like sunflower oil, corn oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil
  • walnuts
  • tofu
  • soy nut butter, soy nuts
  • pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds.

Omega 3 fatty acids: Found in fatty fishes and helps in reducing the risk of coronary heart diseases and blood pressure related health problems. Source of omega-3 fatty acids are:


  • Fish like salmon, trout, sardines.
  • Canola oil, flaxseeds and walnuts also are sources of omega-3.

Harmful dietary fats

Harmful dietary fats can raise the LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) in the body and may make the lining of blood vessel inflexible. They can be classified as:

Saturated fat: This type of fat is mostly derived from animals. Saturated fat can raise diabetes levels, total blood cholesterol levels and LDL in blood which in turn that can raise the risk of coronary heart diseases. Sources of saturated fat include:


  • High fat dairy products like cheese, ice cream, cream cheese, sour cream, butter, whole milk, cream, etc
  • Chicken wings, dark meat chicken, poultry wings
  • Fatty cuts of beef, pork and lamb
  • Tropical oils like coconut oil, cocoa butter, palm oil, palm kernel oil.

Trans fat: This occurs naturally in many food items and is found in animal sources. Most of the trans fat gets generated while food is being cooked. This type of fat causes spurt in HDL and LDL levels in the blood. Sources of trans fat include:


  • Vegetable shortening
  • Stick margarine
  • Doughnuts, French fries and all fried food
  • Commercially prepared food that contains hydrogenated oil like cookies, crackers, microwave popcorn, pastries, cakes, etc.

Cholesterol: Cholesterol is not fat however it is a fat-like substance that is waxy. Human body manufactures some cholesterol and some cholesterol is derived from animals. Cholesterol is vital for the body as it helps the body to build cells and produce certain hormones. However we should keep in mind that this required cholesterol is produced by the body itself.
"Cholesterol helps break down food into essential nutrients. Combined with liver, it produces bile acids which are essential for the digestion of fats and clearing the waste. Cholesterol acts to interlock 'lipid molecules,' which stabilize cell membranes. Therefore, it is a vital building block for all bodily tissues." Says Shane Elison in his book 'Over the Counter Natural Cures' about Cholesterol.

Sources of cholesterol include:


  • Organ meats like liver, kidney, brains
  • Shrimp, squid
  • Egg yolks, whole eggs
  • Meat, poultry, sea food

Fat intake guidelines


  • Total fat intake should be limited to less than 25-35 % of one's total caloric consumption per day.
  • Saturated fat may not be more than 7% of the total fat intake.
  • Trans fat to be limited t 1% of the total fat intake.
  • The remaining fat can be from sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
  • Cholesterol intake should be limited to less than 300 mg per day, for healthy people and 200 mg per day for people with coronary diseases.

Recommendations for heart healthy dietary fat


Type of fat Food source Suggested intake
Total fat Plant and animal based food Includes all types of fat and can be 20% - 30% of total calorie intake
Monounsaturated fat Olive oil, poultry, canola oil, peanut oil avocado, nuts and seeds No specific recommendation on intake however should remain within the healthy limits
Polyunsaturated fat Poultry, vegetable oil, nut oil and nuts and seeds No specific recommendation on intake however should remain within the healthy limits
Omega-3 fatty acids Walnuts, fatty fish, flax oil, ground flaxseed No specific recommendation on intake however should remain within the healthy limits
Saturated fat Butter, coconut, cheese, pizza, sausage, hot dogs, grain based deserts, etc Not more than 10% of the total calorie intake
Trans fat Cookies, cakes, snack foods, margarine, etc Better if avoided, however minimal intake is suggested
Cholesterol Dairy products, sea food, eggs, beef, hamburger, etc Less than 300mg a day

Choose the best heart healthy dietary fat


  • Reduce consumption of food high in trans fat,cholesterol and saturated fat.
  • Consume food rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat but keep within recommended healthy levels.
  • Choose fats in your diet based on your cardiovascular conditions
  • Use olive oil to sauté instead of butter.
  • Read food labels before picking up the food product.
  • Snack on nuts like unsalted walnuts, peanuts, almonds,sunflower seeds instead of potato crisps and French fries.
  • Use canola oil for baking.
  • Use olive oil for marinade and salad dressing.
  • Use avocado instead of cheese.

Heart healthy diet


  • Consume a balanced diet with plenty of fibers. Fibrous food like fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and legumes should be included. Consume cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.
  • Avoid high-calorie food that has poor nutrient content.
  • Consume fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Limit consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol,food like red meat, egg yolks, shell fish, etc.
  • Consuming oily fishes like salmon is good for the heart.
  • Add chopped olives to your salads and casseroles.
  • Replace sour cream dip with hummus.
  • Try peanut oil to sauté your veggies.

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