Healthy Fats Are Part of a Heart-Health Diet

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Filed Under: Heart Health Principles, Heart Health
Last Reviewed 02/22/2014

Healthy Fats Are Part of a Heart-Health Diet

For optimal heart health, my Pan-Asian Mediterranean (PAM) diet emphasizes a generous quantity of high-quality fats—as much as 30 percent of daily calories—which are key to help lowering your risk of heart disease.

In brief, wholesome fats you should eat in a heart-health diet include olives and olive oil, a staple in Mediterranean and Pan-Asian regions; fatty fish; nuts and nut butters; flaxseed; soy and avocados. But in order to make sound decisions about the best fats to include in your heart-health diet, it’s helpful to know a little more about the four basic types of fats: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega-6 and omega-3 fats.

  • Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Meat, for example, contains saturated fat. Consuming a lot of saturated fats can increase blood levels of cholesterol. Although I firmly believe that chronic inflammation, not high cholesterol, is the root cause of heart disease, I still don’t recommend a high animal saturated-fat intake because these fats don’t do much good for the body and they contain a high amount of environmental toxins. Range-free meats are much safer.

  • Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, but solid in the refrigerator. Found in olive oil, avocados and many nuts, monounsaturated fats support healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and they are thought to help stabilize blood sugar levels. They also help preserve your pancreas because they don’t provoke an excessive insulin response.

  • Polyunsaturated fats, which occur naturally in plants and seafood, are liquid at both room temperature and when refrigerated. Examples are safflower, sunflower, corn, soy, canola, sesame, flax and fish oils. Polyunsaturated fats can be divided into two main camps: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These are known as essential fatty acids (EFAs) because they are essential for life.

  • Omega-6 fats vs. Omega-3 fats. The omega-6 building block, linoleic acid, is relatively easy to obtain, because it occurs naturally in almost all nuts and seeds and is abundant in vegetable oils, including canola, safflower, sunflower, corn and soy. Omega-3s, on the other hand, are more challenging to get from food because there are few original sources. Some of the richest are fish, flaxseed and pumpkin seed oils, with dark leafy green vegetables being another good source. Ideally, we should all strive for a 2:1 to 4:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in our diets. In fact, some researchers now believe that the average American diet puts our current omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in the alarming 20:1 range. Eating such a skewed diet over the long haul is a sure way to create internal inflammation, the key cause of heart disease.

How Much Should I Eat on my Heart-Healthy Diet Plan?

To keep your heart healthy, I recommend as part of my PAM heart-health diet that you aim for three to five servings of healthy fats and oils daily and minimize omega-6 oils as much as possible. One serving of fat or oil is equal to:

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil,
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed or chia seed,
  • 2 ½ ounces avocado,
  • 1 ½ tablespoons almond (no sugar added), tahini or other nut butter,
  • Or 2 ounces walnuts, almonds or macadamia nuts.

Note: Serving guidelines are based on a 1,800 to 2,000 calories-per-day eating plan. If your goal is weight reduction, consume smaller portions in order to lower your caloric intake.

More Dr. Sinatra Advice on Eating a Heart Health Diet

Want to know how dairy foods fit into the PAM diet for optimal heart health? Get all the details on how dairy products contribute to the heart-healthy PAM diet plan.

How do whole grains fit into the heart-healthy PAM diet plan? Find out the important role that whole grains, nuts, and seeds play in the PAM diet for optimal heart health.

Want more specifics on the PAM diet for optimal heart health? Get all the details on the heart-healthy PAM diet plan.

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