Choose the right fats for your heart

Since February is American Heart Month, I would like to take an opportunity to debunk a myth about heart-healthy eating. One food group that is often questioned is fat. Can you eat fat while following a heart-healthy diet? Yes! In fact, your body needs fat to produce hormones, grow cells, protect your organs, insulate your body and absorb fat-soluble vitamins. What matters is how much, and what kind of fat, you eat. Moderation is key.

Fats you will want to limit in a heart-healthy diet include saturated and trans fats.

Saturated fat is found in higher amounts in animal products such as beef and pork, whole and 2 percent milk, yogurt, cheese and butter. That doesn’t mean you can never eat these foods, but it does mean you should often choose smaller portions or reduced- or low-fat options.

Trans fat is found in many processed and packaged baked goods such as cookies, pastries and donuts, as well as in fried foods.

Saturated and trans fats raise your LDL (or “low-density lipoprotein”) cholesterol — the type of cholesterol that builds up on the artery wall leading to heart disease.

Now, let’s talk hearthealthy fats! These include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Lean meats like chicken, turkey and fish, and 1 percent and skim milk, yogurt and cheese are the best protein choices for heart health. Unsalted nuts and seeds, avocados, and oils such as olive and canola, should be part of your heart-healthy diet (while also being mindful of portion sizes). How can you incorporate these heart-healthy fats? Try sprinkling walnuts or almond slices on your oatmeal, adding avocado slices to your toast or sandwich (instead of butter or mayonnaise), mixing flax or chia seeds into your yogurt, or making your own salad dressing using vinegar and oil.

You can also cook with olive oil and canola oil instead of butter. Olive oil has a low smoke point, so it’s best for sautéing vegetables. If you choose to fry foods, canola oil is best. The possibilities are endless.

Overall, a hearthealthy diet is lower in fat. One simple way to reduce fat is to do some food swapping. Baking is one area where fat can be lowered. Try using applesauce in quick bread and muffin recipes instead of oil, or mixing one tablespoon of ground flaxseed with three tablespoons of water instead of using an egg. Instead of using sour cream, try plain non-fat Greek yogurt. If using oil to prevent food from sticking, try cooking spray. These are just a few simple ways to control your fat intake.

Remember, your body needs fat to support many processes. Choosing foods lower in saturated and trans fats will be better for your heart. There are many ways to add a variety of hearthealthy fats to your diet and reduce your overall fat intake. You can still have foods that are higher in saturated fat, but be mindful of the portion and how often you indulge. Eating hearthealthy doesn’t have to be bland! There are many heart-healthy fats to choose from, so get creative!

Remember healthy is Sheboygan County’s place to view and submit health related events.

Bethany Soderlund is a UW-Green Bay dietetic intern.