All Fats are not Created Equal

There is a lot of conflicting information out there about fats and if there is a way to incorporate them into your diet in a healthy way. The good news is that dietary fats are an essential component of a healthy diet and not all fats are created equal.

When it comes to fats, the main goal is to replace foods high in saturated fats (fatty cuts of meat, poultry with skin, high-fat dairy products like cream, butter and whole milk, coconut oil and other tropical oils) with foods rich in unsaturated fats.

Strive to incorporate more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats into your diet in place of saturated fats to help reduce your total and “bad” LDL cholesterol.

Monounsaturated fats help increase the “good” cholesterol in the body known as HDL cholesterol. When you choose these fats you can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Examples of foods rich in monounsaturated fats include:

  • Avocados
  • Seeds such as pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds
  • Nuts and nut butters like almonds, almond butter, peanuts, peanut butter and pecans
  • Olives
  • Vegetable oils such as canola oil, olive oil and peanut oil

Polyunsaturated fats are a source of essential omega-3 and omega-6 fats that are not produced by the body and therefore must be obtained from foods. Omega-3 fats in particular can help promote heart health by reducing triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood); slowing the buildup of plaque in the arteries; and reducing inflammation in the body. Polyunsaturated fats are found in a multitude of foods, including:

  • Fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel and trout
  • Flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
  • Vegetable oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil and soybean oil
  • Walnuts

Here are a few simple ways to incorporate more heart-healthy fats into your diet:

  • Top your oatmeal or cold cereal with a handful of walnuts or almonds for some extra crunch.
  • Swap out store-bought, mayo-based dressing and make your own salad dressing with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, fresh garlic and black pepper.
  • Try to include fish high in omega-3 fats in your meals at least two times a week.
  • Add a couple slices of avocado to your sandwich instead of mayonnaise or butter.
  • Add flaxseeds, chia seeds or hemp seeds to your oatmeal to give it an even creamier texture.
  • Cook or bake with canola oil or other plant-based oils instead of butter.
  • Remove the skin from chicken and turkey.
  • Add unsalted sunflower or pumpkin seeds to your salad for a nice crunch.

These items are available in almost all grocery stores, so the next time you’re shopping, be sure to add them to your cart. Then have fun experimenting with ways to incorporate them into your diet. Your heart will thank you.

Virginia Heart is Northern Virginia’s premier cardiovascular group, with more than 50 board certified cardiologists who provide expertise in treating a wide range of conditions that affect the body's heart and vascular systems.