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Heart-healthy oils and fat

Fat-free isn’t synonymous with heart-healthy, says dietitian Lena Beal M.S., RD, LD, a therapeutic dietitian at Piedmont’s Cardiovascular Service Line. “When we think of heart health, we think about cutting back the fat,” she says.

While it is important to prepare your food in a healthy way – baking, broiling or grilling instead of frying; trimming visible fat from meat; reducing sodium – you don’t have to eliminate fat completely from your diet. Adults should limit fat to just 20 to 35 percent of their daily caloric intake. The trick is making sure you consume the healthy, unsaturated fats and avoid saturated fat.

Reduce saturated fat

Saturated fat is found in animal products, such as meat, cheese, butter, as well as palm and coconut oil. Limit these ingredients in your diet or select low- or nonfat versions.

Consistency is a good guide to use when cooking with fat. Ingredients that are liquid at room temperature (like olive oil) are generally preferred over those that are solid at room temperature (such as butter). Beal suggests using a spray when possible, such as when you need to coat a baking pan.

Finally, watch out for hidden health saboteurs in low-fat or fat-free products. You may have the best intentions when reducing fat in your diet, but you still need to read food labels. Many companies add salt or sugar to low-fat packaged products to make them more palatable. “We’re only allowed a teaspoon of salt a day – that’s 2,000 milligrams,” cautions Beal.

Heart-healthy fat

One category of unsaturated fat is plant sterols, which can actually reduce your cholesterol. These are oils derived from plants, nuts and seeds and include:

  • Canola
  • Safflower
  • Flaxseed
  • Sunflower
  • Corn
  • Olive 

Good fat – plant sterols – block the absorption of bad fat in your system. “They limit the amount of cholesterol your body will ultimately absorb, which lowers your overall cholesterol level,” explains Beal. She recommends following package instructions when cooking with different oils, as they may have different “flash points,” or temperatures at which they burn.

  • Peanut oil is slow to burn, so it is recommended for pan frying. However, keep in mind that you should rarely fry dishes for optimum heart health.
  • Canola, safflower and olive oil are good options for light searing, grilling or baking.
  • When baking meats or vegetables, consider using an oil spray to reduce your fat intake even further.
  • Flaxseed and olive oils are great salad dressing bases.

“These oils support healthy cholesterol levels, support healthy blood vessels and brain health,” says Beal. For additional healthy lifestyle ideas, visit Health and Wellness.

Book an appointment with a Piedmont cardiologist today. 

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