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Understanding Fats and Your Heart Health

Fat. You may not read that particular word and innately think of healthy eating. In recent decades, the usual recommendation has been that fats be reduced almost in total from diets. But not all fats are equal when it comes to your heart health. And seeking better understanding of the various kinds of fats can help you construct a better plan for longer lasting heart health.

Speaking with Memorial Hospital of Converse County's Registered Dietitian Ashley Littleton, RD, we asked for some pointers to what we put on our plate.

Fats by and large have been omitted from the discussion of healthy eating in recent decades. But it's not simply a matter of the philosophy of all fats are bad. "Look for healthy fats, not just fat free items," noted Littleton "focus on health protective fats that contain Omega 3 fatty acids can help increase good cholesterol in HDL and can help lower bad cholesterol in LDL numbers."

Omega 3 fatty acids are defined as an unsaturated fatty acid of a kind occurring chiefly in fish oils, with three double bonds at particular positions in the hydrocarbon chain. Omega 3s are usually found as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). "Some foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids are fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, walnuts, as well as eggs. Eggs are an easy way to incorporate more Omega 3 fatty acids. Flaxseed is a good source of Omega 3s but must be ground in order to receive these health benefits," said Littleton.

Other fats to consider including in your diet?

Monounsaturated fats. These particular fats have been shown to improve cholesterol values. And improvement of your lipids (cholesterol) has been shown in countless studies to improve heart health. Littleton noted, "Nuts, nut butters, and avocado are all high in Monounsaturated fats." Nuts like walnuts, macadamia, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds are all high in Monounsaturated Fats and can easily be included in overall meals: like in salads or are perfect snacks. Avocados as well can be an addition throughout your day in meals or snacks, and nut butters can provide nutrition on their own or accompanied with fruits or vegetables.

But like all things, moderation is key: "Remember that even health protective fats need to be consumed in moderation. A serving size of nuts is 1 oz or 1/3 of a cup, not the entire container. Most container of nuts contain over 11 oz of nuts and they are easy to overeat, especially during family times, sporting events, and when consumed straight from the container," Littleton cautioned.

What should you avoid when looking at a healthy fat diet?

Foods High in Saturated Fats. "Saturated fats tend to come from animal sources. To avoid these fats, try to consume leaner cuts of beef, pork, skinless poultry, and fatty fish most days of the week. Saturated fats are fats that are solid at room temperature."

Fad diets as well should be approached with caution: "A current craze that does not have great research to sustain is the use of coconut oil. While nations that tend to consume coconuts regularly do have lower rates of obesity, we need to keep in mind that these nations are typically much more active than the average American family. Coconut oil does contain some monounsaturated fats and Omega 3 fatty acids, but it also contains a high amount of saturated fats. This is why it is solid at room temperature. Use coconut oil in moderation and I would opt to recommend more fluid oils to be used most of the time."

Have questions about your nutrition and overall health? Contact Ashley Littleton by clicking here, or leave a comment on our Facebook page.