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Heart Healthy Fats - From Omega-3 Fatty Acids To Unsaturated Fats

Jun 4, 2008
When it comes to making heart healthy choices about which fats you eat, there is a lot more to the story than avoiding saturated fat and trans fat. There are certain fats that seem to make your heart healthier and reduce your risk of heart disease. Monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids are the fats to make room for in your daily diet. Here is why they are heart healthy and how to get them.

Unsaturated Fats

Unlike saturated fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are made up of fatty acids that have a chemical structure slightly different than saturated fats. Saturated fats are fully saturated with hydrogen, while the unsaturated fats have at least one double bond between carbon molecules. Trans fat are a unique type of fat. Trans fats are unsaturated fats but the shape of the fat is similar to a saturated fat.

All foods with fat have both saturated and unsaturated fats (http://ezinearticles.com/?Promote-Heart-Health-By-Eliminating-Saturated-Fat-And-Trans-Fat-From-Your-Diet&id=904185). The proportions of the two types of fats vary considerably, though. Foods high in saturated fats will be solid at room temperature. Think of beef fat and other meat fats, butter and coconut oil. Also high in saturated fat are cheese and full fat milk. Foods high in the unsaturated fatty acids, on the other hand, will be more liquid at room temperature. Think of vegetables oils and nut oils.

For a heart healthy diet, choose more foods rich in unsaturated fats and fewer foods rich in saturated fat. The key is replace unhealthy fats with healthy fats instead of simply adding more fat to your diet. Quick replacement ideas include topping your salad with nuts instead of cheese, using avocado spread in place of butter, and using canola oil in place of butter or shortening when baking.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a special type of polyunsaturated fatty acid. The presence of a specific chemical bond identifies them as omega-3 fatty acids. When large groups of people are studied, those who eat higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids have lower rates of heart disease. Omega-3 fats may improve cardiovascular health by several means including improving blood circulation and improving levels of blood lipids. Other health benefits are also linked to omega-3s such as improved immune function.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish and fish oil with the best fish sources being oily fish like salmon, herring and mackeral. The omega-3 content of these fish are much greater than the omega-6 content which is important for trying to meet recommendations for the dietary omega-6 to omega-3 ratio to be 4 to 1 or less. Other sources of omega-3 fats are flaxseed and flaxseed oil, meat from grass-fed animals (as opposed to grain-fed animals) and certain nuts including walnuts.

Plant Oils

Most oils from vegetables, nuts and seeds contain heart healthy fats like monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, they are generally low in saturated fat and contain no trans fat.

Some oils are healthier than others, though. One thing to look at is what proportion of the vegetable oil is unsaturated fats. Oils with low levels of saturated fat are canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, soybean and sunflower oils. Although not commonly used as cooking oils, palm oil and coconut oil are plant oils with high levels of saturated fat.

When it comes to omega-3 fatty acids, canola oil is the better choice than other common cooking oils. Other good choices are olive oil, walnut oil and soybean oil. Safflower, sunflower and corn oils, no the other hand, have little omega-3 fatty acids.

Lastly, when using plant oils for cooking at high temperatures, as in frying or sautéing, consider the smoke point. The chemical structure of fats can change when it reaches its smoke point. So using oils with higher smoke points can help avoid those changes. Safflower oil, soybean oil and corn oil have smoke points at around 450 degrees F.
About the Author
So remember, not all fats are bad. Freelance health writer Jessica Sanders emphasizes that some fats do the body good, including omega-3 fatty acids and unsatured fats found in nuts. Learn more about heart health on HeartMart. Cardiovascular health is #1 on HeartMart. You'll even learn why lowering cholesterol is important and how to do it.
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