February is known for affairs of the heart, but it’s not all about romance! As the official Healthy Heart Month, February is also a time to focus on a heart healthy diet.
Is “Fat” a Bad Word?
Contrary to popular belief, fats are an important nutrient, and should be incorporated into your diet. The word “fat” refers to a class of compounds called lipids, which includes triglycerides (fats and oils), phospholipids and sterols, and is a concentrated source of energy.
Fats actually help to delay hunger, and also contribute to the palatability, flavor and texture of food. So while a low-fat diet can be beneficial, it also helps to pay attention to the kind of fats you are consuming:
Saturated fatty acids are linked to coronary heart disease, and can increase blood cholesterol levels. They are stored as body fat because your body doesn’t need them, and are found in animal products such as beef, poultry, fish, lard and butter, as well as in plant products such as cocoa butter, coconut oil and palm oil, often found in cakes, cookies and other desserts.
Unsaturated fatty acids, or monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, come from plants. Corn, safflower and sunflower oils contain high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which lower blood cholesterol levels, and olive and canola oils contain high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids, which reduce total blood cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol (low-density lipo proteins, or “bad” cholesterol; high-density lipo proteins, or HDL, are “good” cholesterol).
Essential fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that help you maintain optimal health, healthy skin and normal growth. These include linoleic acids, linoleic acids and omega-3 fatty acids, believed to help prevent blood clots causing heart attack or stroke. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold-water fish such as mackerel, albacore tuna, salmon, sardines and lake trout.
The good and the bad: cholesterol
Cholesterol, categorized as a sterol, is a fatty, wax-like substance produced in the liver. Again, contrary to popular belief, cholesterol is vital for optimum health, a part of all cells and important in brain and nerve tissue development. But we don’t need cholesterol in our diet – our liver produces it for us.
Unfortunately, some people produce too much no matter what they eat. If this is your situation, your physician may recommend certain medications; research shows that a low-cholesterol diet doesn’t necessarily lower cholesterol levels. However, know that consuming fiber can help, and so does exercise, especially aerobic.
If you must…
High-fat snack foods such as chips, ice cream and other desserts are hard to resist. In response, companies have jumped on the “fat substitute” bandwagon, producing products that reduce fat and calories while maintaining texture and taste. But what effect can these products have on the gastrointestinal tract, and can they interfere with the absorption of vital nutrients? Whenever fat substitutes are used in a product, there is usually a warning: “May cause abdominal cramping, or possible anal leakage.” Hmmm, does this sound appealing? Stay away!
The better approach is to educate yourself on the wonderful world of fats, and change what you are putting into your body. You just might make some progress in your quest for a healthy heart!
Mark is the General Manger at Club Fit in Briarcliff. He has degrees in Nutrition & Food Science and Dietetic Technology/Nutrition Care. He is a registered and active member with The American Dietetic Association (ADA), now known as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists (SCAN). Mark is also certified with The American College of Sports Medicine as a Health/Fitness Specialist and holds many certificates of enhanced qualifications.