Dietary Fats and our Hearts

We may all know someone affected by heart disease or stroke because 2,300 Americans die of cerebral vascular disease each day and the food we eat has a lot to do with it. Our diets are made up of many different types of fats. Some are good, some are bad, and some are a little of both. Let’s evaluate what you need to maintain a healthy diet.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol may get a bad rap, but some is necessary for proper cell function.  It is used to make hormones, vitamin D, and supports the digestive system. Your liver makes enough to cover this need but if you eat a lot of foods containing cholesterol, such as fatty meats and high-fat dairy, your cholesterol level may become too high. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) transports cholesterol from your bloodstream to your liver to be excreted from the body, being dubbed the “good” cholesterol.   Your lab value should be >55mg/dl for females and > 45mg/dl for males. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) takes cholesterol to your arteries.  LDL is the “bad” cholesterol and comes from eating a diet of fatty meats and high-fat dairy products.  This may build up as plaque and increase your risk of developing blood clots.  Your lab value should be < 130mg/dl if you don’t have diabetes or heart disease, and even lower, < 100mg/dl if you do. A high LDL level may be inherited, caused by a genetic mutation that affects the ability of the liver to get rid of the excess cholesterol.   Therefore lifestyle changes are not always enough and medication may be needed as well.

Triglycerides (TG) are the chemical form in which fat exists in food and in the body.  These blood levels are also impacted by high sugar intake.   TG levels need to be < 150mg/dl.  If these are high in addition to high LDL and low HDL levels then you are at an increased risk for heart disease.

Fats

There are different kinds of fats in our diet. Trans fats are man-made and they have no nutritive value.  They increase LDL and decrease HDL levels, so it is best to avoid. Be sure to read the nutrition labels as, the FDA has banned trans fats from the US food supply, making the right amount zero! Saturated fats are found in animal products such as red meats, whole fat dairy products, eggs, and vegetable oils such as palm oil, coconut oil, and cocoa butter.  These fats increase LDL levels and should be limited or avoided.

What should I eat?

So what foods should you eat? Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Lean meats have less than 5 grams of fat per serving. Some examples include baked salmon, tuna, and skinless chicken. Unsalted nuts and seeds, legumes, and vegetable and olive oils also help to maintain a healthy diet. Good examples include oats, barley, beans, apples, grapes, strawberries, citrus, and soy.

You should also avoid these foods: untrimmed meats, fried foods, any baked goods made with trans fats or saturated fats, full-fat dairy, oils that are solid at room temperature, and tropical oils such as coconut oil.

There are other things you can do like losing weight, smoking cessation, stress reduction and exercising to help reduce your risk of heart disease and support overall health and well-being.  The biggest part of living healthy comes down to making better choices.  You may not be able to control your age or heredity but the good news is that even modest changes can improve heart health and lower your risk by as much as 80%.

If you’re interested in more information, make an appointment with one of our registered dietitians. We are located at Bucyrus, Galion, and Ontario Hospitals. Ask your primary care provider for a referral to our services.

By Susanne Hiltner. Susanne is a registered dietician at Avita Health System

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