Nutrition is extremely important in lowering your risk of heart disease. Knowing which fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and which may be beneficial is the first step in lowering this risk. Trans-fatty acids, saturated fats and dietary cholesterol all contribute to raising blood cholesterol, while mono- and polyunsaturated fats do not. Some recent studies have suggested these fats may help lower LDL cholesterol slightly when consumed as part of a balanced diet low in saturated fat.
Saturated fat is found mainly in foods from animals such as beef. pork. lamb and dairy products and some plants such as coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil, is the main dietary cause of high cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends saturated fat intake is limited to 7-10% total calories each day.
Trans-fatty acids, also known as partially hydrogenated oils are largely found in margarine and shortening, although a small percentage of these fats are present in animal products. These fats are found mainly in commercially baked goods and processed foods because of their long shelf life. These fats are thought by some medical professionals to pose a greater health risk than saturated fat because not only do these fats tend to increase total cholesterol and LDL, they also decrease HDL, good cholesterol. The FDA recently passed a law that will require all foods to list the amount of trans fat on the food label by 2006. This has caused many manufacturers to reformulate products to eliminate trans fat. Data from 1994-1996 showed the estimated average intake of trans fats in the US to be 2.6% total calories. A beneficial goal should be to eliminate or severely limit intake of trans-fatty acids.
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are found primarily in plant oils. These fats are often considered “good fats” and are beneficial when consumed in small quantities. These fats may help lower cholesterol, especially when used in place of saturated fat. Polyunsaturated fats are found in safflower, sesame and sunflower seeds and their oils. Monounsaturated fats include canola, olive, peanut oils and avocados.
Omega-3-fatty acids are also important to incorporate into a healthy diet. These polyunsaturated fats are found in nuts, seeds and fish. Oily fish contain greater amounts of omega-3-fatty acids than lean fish. Evidence suggests an association between these fats and decreased risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease for the general population.
According to the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005”, fat intake should provide 20-35% total energy. Of this, 7-10% or less should be saturated fat, minimal amounts from trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated fats, and the majority from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These goals can be easily achieved by minimizing intake of fried foods, controlling portion sizes of fatty meats, switching from whole fat to low fat dairy products, and decreasing consumption of processed foods. To increase intake of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, incorporate small amounts of olive oil, nuts and seeds into the diet.