February is American Heart Month so I can’t possibly go without discussing the massive impact nutrition has on our heart.
Heart disease is a major problem in America—it’s the leading cause of death for both men and women. Every year, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack, and about 600,000 people die from heart disease in the United States each year—that’s 1 out of every 4 deaths. When it comes to what you eat, fat has always been to blame. However, the pathogenesis and treatment of heart disease urgently requires a paradigm shift. There is no benefit on heart attack or cardiovascular-related deaths from reducing fat in your diet -- including saturated fat.
Your body needs fat in your diet...it's necessary and healthy.
Include These Fats Daily
Monounsaturated Fat. Monounsaturated fats can have a beneficial effect on your health when used to replace saturated fats or trans fats. Monounsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. They also provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells. The best choices are avocados, olives, macadamia nuts, almonds, peanuts, nut butters, olive oil and avocado oil. These type of foods should provide the majority of the fat in your diet.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: EPA and DHA. Omaga-3’s are a type of polyunsaturated fat. Thousands of clinical studies have shown an increased intake of EPA and DHA to support overall cardiovascular function, such as reducing triglycerides and supporting healthy cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Great sources of omega-3 include fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout, scallops, cod, sardines, mackerel, crab, halibut, and herring. The plant based form of omega-3 are found in flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, kale, and collard greens. Unfortunately, it is well-known only a small amount of the plant based omega-3 is converted in our body to the form of omega-3 important for all the health benefits.
Fish is the best source of omega-3, and due to concerns about toxins such as mercury, consider a balance between eating 6 ounces per week and taking a purified fish oil supplement.
I prefer to use any of these oils for myself and my kiddos:
Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Liquid Fish Oil, Lemon
Nordic Naturals Arctic Cod Liver Oil, Orange
Nordic Naturals Arctic-D Cod Liver Oil, Lemon
Nordic Naturals Children’s DHA Liquid
The American Heart Association recommends people with heart disease consume a minimum of 1 gram of combined EPA and DHA per day, and those with high triglycerides consume 2-4 grams per day.
Include These Fats Regularly
Coconut. It is composed of 90% saturated fat, which is a type of fat we’re told to avoid. However, the type of saturated fat in coconut is not the same as the saturated fat in a steak. The fat in a coconut is medium-chain triglycerides (MTC), and this fat is metabolized differently. Half of the type of saturated fat found in a coconut is Lauric acid. Lauric acid increases total cholesterol the most of all the fatty acids, but the good news is most of that increase may be in HDL, the healthy cholesterol.
I like using MCT oil, which only contains medium-chain fats. I like to add it to my coffee.
Raw cacao powder or Cacao Butter. Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans. The process keeps the living enzymes in the cocoa and removes the fat (cacao butter). Cocoa butter is solid at room temperature and very stable. It is used to add smoothness and flavor in some foods, including chocolate. Cocoa butter has significant amounts of saturated fats, but a main fatty acid is stearic acid which has been shown in studies not to raise cholesterol levels like other saturated fats.
OK to Eat, Contrary to What You've Been Told
Saturated Fat. Saturated fat does not clog the arteries. Coronary heart disease is a chronic inflammatory condition. Preventing the development of atherosclerosis is important, but it's lesion disruption with thrombus formation that's the real killer. You're better off focusing on balancing blood sugar levels, combating insulin resistance, and decreasing insulin levels.
Most saturated fat comes from animals. For example, cheese, butter, beef fat, pork fat.
Avoid This Fat
Trans Fatty Acids. Most trans fats are made during a process of changing liquid vegetable oil into a solid. They raise bad cholesterol, clog arteries and cause heart disease. These fats hide on food labels under the alias, “partially hydrogenated,” so carefully read the ingredients section on the nutrition label. Examples of foods that commonly contain trans fats include margarine, hydrogenated peanut butter, cookies, crackers, chips, coffee creamer, fried foods such as donuts, pre-mixed cake and pancake mixes, and packaged or microwave popcorn.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods
Mensink RP, Zock PL, Kester ADM, Katan MB (May 2003). Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 77 (5): 1146–1155.
Schneider CL, Cowles RL, Stuefer-Powell CL, Carr TP. Dietary stearic acid reduces cholesterol absorption and increases endogenous cholesterol excretion in hamsters fed cereal-based diets. J Nutr. 2000 May; 130(5):1232-8.
Malhotra A et al. Saturated fat does not clog the arteries: coronary heart disease is a chronic inflammatory condition, the risk of which can be effectively reduced from healthy lifestyle interventions. BJ of Sports Med; vol 51, issue 15.