Heart Healthy Fats and Fats to Avoid

by Lori Cipolla

Many diet trends have cycled through our society, including the most recent, “no fat” and “low fat” diets. However a trend or fad is just that, a craze. With improper information, we could miss out on some great health benefits like incorporating healthy fats in our diets. The right healthy fats can help lower your risk of heart disease and lower LDL cholesterol. The important piece is knowing what fats are healthy and what fats are not. 

Trans fats include artificially occurring hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. You will often see this on labels of processed foods such as cookies, crackers, stick margarine, cakes, etc. A question that often arises with trans fats pertains to the method of labeling. Often, a box will say zero trans fats, but still contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in the ingredients. Most people do not know that if a product contains 0 to less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving, it is still listed as zero on the label. Although, research has shown, using even small amounts of this fat is harmful to our health. Trans fat is a fat to avoid.

Saturated fats are not as black and white as being labeled a “bad” fat. It is important to know that this type of fat can drive up total cholesterol if too much is consumed. According to the American Heart Association, the recommended total calories from saturated fats should be -between 5-percent and 6-percent. Saturated fats are seen more commonly in the American diet. You can find these fats in whole milk, cheese, commercially prepared baked goods, red meat, and coconut oil. Numerous studies show replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fat can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease. Coconut oil is listed as a saturated fat, yet there are many sources noting that it’s healthy. Saturated fat gets divided into two types based on number of carbon atoms in the molecule. Coconut oil has a higher percentage than most other oils of 12-carbon variety, this is called lauric acid which is known as a medium chain fatty acid. This is probably responsible for the unusual HDL effects (good cholesterol) of coconut oil.

The two broad categories of beneficial fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats have a single carbon to carbon double bond resulting in two fewer hydrogen atoms than a saturated fat. This will keep monounsaturated fats liquid at room temperature. This includes fats such as olive oil, peanut and canola oil and also includes avocados, nuts, safflower and sunflower oils that are high oleic.

Polyunsaturated fats are essential fats needed for normal body functions but can not be produced by the body which means you will have to acquire the fats through your food. This type of fat has two or more double bond in its carbon chain. Eating polyunsaturated fats in place of highly refined carbs and saturated fats has been proven to lower bad LDL cholesterol and also lower triglycerides. This category of fats is broken down to omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids.

Fatty fishes such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna are a good sources of omega-3s. Flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed oil, and grapeseed oil are also good sources of omega-3s.

Nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils that are non-hydrogenated are good sources of omega-6s. The key to balancing your omega vitamin intake is keeping your omega-3 and omega-6 ratios on the low side such as a 4:1 instead of a 16:1 ratio. This will allow you to gain the most benefits from omega heart healthy fats.

A few general guidelines for consuming healthy fats:

  • Eliminate trans fats, remember to look at ingredient labels for anything that says partially hydrogenated.
  • Try to eliminate fried foods, even though there’s a movement to ban trans fats, vegetable oils will oxidize when brought to high temperatures.
  • Include omega-3 fatty acids in your diet daily.
  • Cold-pressed and organic oils retain all the nutrients so choose your oils carefully.
  • Eat less industrially processed foods and choose to eat whole, “real” foods. Choose foods grown in the ground or ocean and foods from local farms.  

Lori Cipolla from Cranston, RI is a certified Personal Trainer and Sports Nutritionist. She is an Elite 1 Fit Gear athlete: elite1fitgear.refersion.com/c/8f40, wife, mom of five, and Fitmark Bags Ambassador. She can be reached at [email protected] and via her website, www.ylwebsite.com/stayfitmomof5.

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