The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating a heart healthy diet that includes good fats, limits saturated fats and minimizes trans fat consumption to help manage cholesterol levels.
Good Fats vs. Bad Fats
Good Fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that lower bad cholesterol (LDL) along with your risk of heart disease and stroke. They provide the essential fats your body needs but cannot produce itself.
Good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that lower bad cholesterol (LDL), along with your risk of heart disease and stroke. They provide the essential fats your body needs but cannot produce itself.
The best sources of good fats are:
- Plant-based oils including olive, canola and safflower. Unheated olive oil is preferred as heat ruins the antioxidant properties.
- Nuts and seeds like flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and pecans that are not salted or oiled – check the label for added oil and sodium content.
- Fatty fish including herring, wild salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines.
- Avocados, which are loaded with good fats and nutrients.
Limit saturated fats that raise bad cholesterol (LDL), lower good cholesterol (HDL) and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. You will find most saturated fats in animal sources like meat and high fat dairy.
Limit your intake of:
- Cheese and butter.
- Tropical oils like coconut and palm.
- Beef, pork and fatty chicken.
- Processed meats like bacon, sausage and hotdogs are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and most recently, cancer.
Avoid Trans Fats and Processed Foods
Avoid trans fats and hydrogenated oils that can raise your LDL and lower HDL levels while increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
Avoid processed foods made with partially hydrogenated oils. Consider these as special occasion foods that you rarely eat including:
- Fried foods.
- Stick margarines.
- Baked goods, especially from outside the home.
Keep Your Heart Healthy
Keep your heart healthy by:
- Exercising at least 30 minutes a day with moderate aerobic activity.
- Reducing stress by unplugging to find your happy place – try tai chi or yoga.
The AHA also recommends taking a daily low dose aspirin if you are at risk of having a heart attack. Talk to your doctor before starting aspirin therapy as the risks and benefits vary depending on your health and family history.
What to eat?
It’s tough to know what to eat, but the Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by 28 percent in people who were already at an elevated risk to begin with. In essence, the diet consists of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fish, beans, nuts and low or nonfat dairy, along with minimal sugar sweetened foods and beverages. By reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates like white starches, crackers, desserts and other sugary treats, you’ll reduce your risk of heart disease.
Consider a meal plan that features fish, poultry without skin and vegetarian dishes twice weekly and enjoy red meat just one day each week. Your heart will thank you.