Heart Health Series: Fats

Heart Health Series: Fats

Heart Health Series: Fats

The final macronutrient of our heart health series, and perhaps the one that comes to mind the most in terms of heart health.  

What’s in Fat?

Fats often have a bad reputation, but they are essential to a balanced diet. What are dietary fats? Dietary fats play a crucial role in providing energy and supporting cell function. In addition, they protect your organs, keep your body warm, absorb nutrients, and produce vital hormones.  They are the most calorically dense macronutrient, containing 9 calories per gram, whereas carbohydrates and protein contain 4 calories per gram.  Choose those fat grams wisely, as they are not all created equal! There are four types of fats in food: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and trans fat. While saturated and trans fats can raise cholesterol levels, unsaturated fats can promote overall health. By selecting healthier fats, such as unsaturated fats, you can reduce LDL cholesterol levels and improve your health. Remember, incorporating foods that contain healthy fats is an important part of a healthy diet.

Monounsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated fats are an excellent way to promote heart health. These fats have a single unsaturated carbon bond within their molecules, making them liquid at room temperature. You can find them in foods like nuts, avocados, and vegetable oils, especially olive oil. Replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats is beneficial for your overall health and can help lower your cholesterol levels. Additionally, monounsaturated fats are essential for cellular function and may provide you with vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. Increased intake of antioxidants like vitamin E has been linked to a reduced risk of chronic inflammatory diseases, such as cardiovascular disease.

What makes monounsaturated fats better than saturated fats? It's simple. Consuming monounsaturated fats can greatly benefit your health by reducing bad cholesterol levels and triglycerides while increasing good cholesterol levels (HDL). Conversely, saturated fats can cause cholesterol levels and triglycerides to rise within the bloodstream. High levels of triglycerides in the blood can increase the risk of heart and blood vessel diseases.

Look for avocadoes, peanut butter, olive oil, peanut oil, sesame oil,  and nuts and seeds, such as hazelnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds. They are all excellent sources of monounsaturated fatty acids.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are healthy dietary fats that contain fat molecules with more than one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule. Typically, PUFAs are liquid at room temperature and are commonly referred to as “oils”. They can be found in fatty fish, plant-based oils, seeds, and nuts. PUFAs may also help to reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses, making them a healthy fat option. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are the two major types of PUFAs. These are both essential fatty acids that the body needs for proper brain function and cell growth. As our body cannot produce essential fatty acids, we must obtain them through our diet.

 Omega- 3 and Omega- 6 Fatty Acids:

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish like salmon and anchovies, as well as in soybeans, walnuts, and flaxseeds, have been shown to have numerous health advantages. These include reducing blood triglyceride levels and decreasing the risk of heart and blood vessel diseases. Additionally, oils derived from canola seeds, soybeans, walnuts, and flaxseeds contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts are other plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

In addition to regulating blood sugar, omega-6 fatty acids can help lower bad cholesterol, lower triglycerides, and raise good cholesterol. These beneficial elements are present in safflower oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, and other plant-based oils, as well as margarine and oil-based dressings.

Omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids together play a crucial role in heart health and managing inflammation in the body. While omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, omega-6s are pro-inflammatory. A balance of both is essential for managing inflammation effectively. Increased inflammation has been linked to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Consuming a higher amount of omega-6s than omega-3s can potentially cause inflammation and increase one's risk for heart-related diseases.

Research indicates that higher levels of omega-3s in the blood, along with increased fish consumption, are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, the Western diet is characterized by a high consumption of omega-6 fatty acids in comparison to omega-3s, with an imbalance ratio of 16:1. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 consumption is 4:1, yet the average American consumes four times the recommended amount.

To promote better heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, it's important to keep your omega consumption under control and follow the 4:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3s. Remember, moderation is key!

Why are PUFAs Better?

As mentioned above, Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs) can be beneficial for your health in several ways. One of the most significant benefits is reducing bad cholesterol levels in the blood, which decreases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Additionally, PUFAs are nutrient-dense and support the development and maintenance of your body's cell functions. Compared to saturated fats, PUFAs and monounsaturated fats are better options due to their ability to lower bad cholesterol levels.

Therefore, incorporating polyunsaturated fats(PUFAs) into your diet is essential to maintain good health. Here are some examples of foods that are high in PUFAs:

  • Fatty or oily fish such as salmon, sardines, and tuna, which are also rich in Omega-3s.
  • Nuts and seeds like flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, and walnuts.
  • Soybeans and tofu are also excellent sources of PUFAs.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are classified as unhealthy fats, and exist as solids at room temperature. Experts recommend that individuals should aim to consume no more than 5-6% of their daily calorie intake from saturated fats. For example, if you are on a 2,000- calorie diet, limit your saturated fat intake to 120 calories or 13 grams of saturated fat per day. Saturated fats are typically found in animal-based products such as beef, pork, poultry, eggs, and full-fat dairy items, as well as coconut and palm oil. Fast food items such as sandwiches, burgers, tacos, and burritos, which often contain meat and dairy products, are also common sources of saturated fats. Additionally, baked goods, ice cream, and desserts are high in saturated fats.

Saturated fats are the type of fats that can increase cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. Cholesterol is categorized into two types: LDL, known as the “bad” cholesterol, and HDL, considered the “good” cholesterol. Although saturated fats can raise both cholesterol levels, having high levels of LDL cholesterol may increase the risk of heart disease.

Trans Fat

Trans fat is considered the most harmful type of them all. It elevates LDL cholesterol levels while lowering HDL cholesterol levels. Because of their negative impact on health, the production and use of trans fats in U.S. food manufacturing have been discontinued.

Maintaining a healthy diet can be challenging, following the longevity diet as a guideline will be beneficial for your overall health. It's essential to keep the big picture in mind: everything in moderation. Focus on balancing your calorie intake, making healthy food choices, and limiting salt, sugar, and processed foods. For optimal health benefits, replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats in your daily eating pattern, which is exactly what the longevity diet suggests. Here are some final tips to help you incorporate the good fats into your diet:

  • Eat fatty or oily fish at least twice a week to get essential omega-3 fatty acids. Mackerel, salmon, tuna, and trout are excellent choices.
  • Snack on a handful of unsalted nuts and seeds, such as almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds for a good source of energy, protein, and fat.
  • Add avocado to your daily diet. Snack on avocado, cook with it, or bake with it to ensure you're getting its many health benefits.
  • Use cooking oils that are lower in saturated fat such as olive oil, avocado oil, soybean oils, sesame oils, and sunflower oils.

By following these simple tips and recommendations, you can keep all your dietary fats in check and maintain a healthy lifestyle to help fight disease and live a longer, healthier life.