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Fat, Dietary

by Pierre S. Aoukar, MD and Hratch L. Karamanoukian, MD
Posted: March 6

Fat can be good for your heart, but you must choose wisely. If you choose poorly, you’re putting your own life on the line. There are four major types of dietary fat:

Saturated Fats: These types of fats are worst for your heart. They play the biggest role— even bigger than dietary cholesterol—in raising your LDL or bad cholesterol. They are usually a solid at room temperature and include any hydrogenated oils (even partially-hydrogenated), shortening, lard, butter, margarine and tropical oils such as coconut, palm, palm kernel. Foods high in saturated fat include cream, cheeses, milk (not skim), beef, pork, turkey, chicken and cocoa butter. Avoid these fats at all costs!

Trans Fatty Acids: They can be consumed in meat and dairy products (as a byproduct of fermentation) or as an unnatural byproduct of the hydrogenation process used to make foods like vegetable shortening, margarine and other saturated fats. Studies have shown that they raise LDL and total cholesterol and lower HDL (good cholesterol). Essentially, these are no better for you than saturated fats.

Polyunsaturated Fats: These constitute your essential or omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They are in liquid form at room temperature. We’ve already explained how these are good for your heart. Overall they have little effect on blood cholesterol levels.

Monounsaturated Fats: This is where the majority of fat in your diet should come from. They are liquid at room temperature and sources include olive, canola and peanut oils and avocado, almonds, and cashews. Olive oil and avocado are nature’s best source of monounsaturated fat. The total fat content in each is about 90% monounsaturated. These fats reduce your risk for heart disease by lowering LDL and raising HDL cholesterol.

When it comes to fat, the best choice is, monounsaturates. The famous Seven Countries Study, which proved the efficacy of the Mediterranean diet in preventing heart disease, showed an inverse relationship between monounsaturated fat consumption and incidence of heart disease. In fact, the country with the lowest rate of heart disease, Crete, consumed 40% of their calories from fat, primarily olive oil. This fact can be misleading however, since this was a homogenous society and their lifestyle and diet are completely different that what we practice in the US. True, the fat consumption in the US makes up about 40% of our calories, except the majority of fat Americans consume is saturated and polyunsaturated and we do not lead the active lifestyle of a Cretan. Therefore, use olive oil when you can to replace other fats in your cooking and eat a small amount of polyunsatures to get your essential fats.

So, now you know what types of fat to eat, but how much do you eat? American Heart Association dietary guidelines suggest no more than 30% of your total calories from fat with saturated fat comprising no more than 10% of your total calories. In order to truly stave off heart disease and stop it in its tracks you need to consume as little saturated fat as possible. If that means none whatsoever, then all the better. Your body does not require saturated fat. Furthermore, the less total fat you consume, the healthier your heart, though you never want to go lower than 10% of total calories from fat. Your goal should be to consume not more than 20% of you total calories from fat. As emerging evidence of the affect of dietary fat on the heart continues to emerge, the AHA guidelines will similarly be revised. Don’t want to wait for the guideline to be revised. They are only going to tell you what we are now telling you, only it with the guidelines it may be too late. This change can not be temporary; it is a permanent rearrangement of lifestyle and the rewards are reaped far down the line.

A paper from the British Medical Journal reviewing 27 studies of dietary fat and heart disease found a direct correlation between reduction in fat intake and reduced rates of heart disease. The reduced risk was only substantiated if subjects reduced fat intake over a long period of time, about two years. Reducing fat in the diet not only reduces blood cholesterol, but body fat and blood pressure as well. The take-home message: eat nuts instead of chips, use guacamole for your dips and spread olive oil on your bread, not butter; and do these all in moderation—a very significant, but misused term which we will get to, in time.

Fat, Dietary, Excerpt from the book: Everything Good For The Heart: The A to Z Guide, Aoukar PS and Karamanoukian HL. Magalhaes Scientific Press

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