Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Heart Health: Which Fats Are Good for the Heart?

Hardly a day goes by without the nutrient 'fat' making a headline or two. How come? Eating too much fat is now widely recognised and linked to heart-health. How do we know which fats are healthier and which ones to eat less of? Is all fat bad for us?

Eating too much fat can lead to obesity. Eating too little fat can under-nourish us. What is the right balance of fat? Firstly, fats are actually a nutrient that are included in one of the main food groups and are part of a balanced diet. But there are many different types of fats available and it can sometimes be confusing to know which ones to buy and which fats to eat less of.

Solid Fats, Liquid Fats

Have you noticed how chilled butter and most cheeses are solid, that you need a knife to cut them? Well what you are cutting through is basically a solid wall of fat. The same is true for ice-cream, you need a scoop to extract it from the tub as it too contains a high percentage of solid fat.

Solid fat is solid at room temperature and is also known as saturated fat. It includes: cream, cheese, full-fat milk, the skin of chicken, bacon rind, the white streaky bits in ham and meats and butter.

Cakes, biscuits and chocolate sweets are usually high in saturated fat content also. So any foods that are made with hard cheeses, full-fat milk and cream may also be high in saturated fat content.

Saturated fats are useful in small amounts and provide warmth and protection for some of our vital organs like the adrenal glands. But let's say that a person eats large doses of saturated fats and carbohydrates over long periods of time, with little or no exercising and spends most of their day sitting down, well then this person may start to increase their weight as unused fats and carbs will be stored.

Saturated fats have developed a bad name for themselves, as when they are eaten in large quantities they have become linked to contributing towards thickening arterial walls.

Heart-Healthy Fats

Some fats have become known as the so-called 'good fats.' These are known as the unsaturated fats or ones which are liquid at room temperature. This includes olive oil, sunflower oil, avocado oil, walnut oil, peanut oil and soya oil to name a few. Any oil that is basically a liquid at room temperature is considered to be one of the healthier oils. These are usually known as the vegetable oils and they are rich in so called fatty acids.

Unsaturated fats are linked to being heart-healthy. It is widely recognised that eating less saturated fatty acids helps to support cholesterol reduction and thus helps to support a healthy heart. Vegetable oils tend to be high in Omega 3 and Omega 6, both of which are considered to be heart-healthy fatty acids.

Read the Labels in Supermarkets!

If you want to find out the fat content of the food you buy contains, start by looking at the labels in supermarkets. Nearly all labels now have the fat content of the foods listed. So it is easy to see how much fat the food contains and now also most labels will say 'Low' or 'Reduced Fat.' So if you think you need to cut down on the amount of fat you eat, then check with the labels as this really can make a difference to how much you digest.

Essential fatty acids are vital for healthy metabolism but cannot be produced in the body, so it is essential that they are supplied through the diet. Essential fatty acids include Omega-3 which supports a healthy heart and blood vessels. Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are both essential fatty acids.


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