Healthy for Life with a Healthy Heart

Only about 50 years ago, doctors didn’t know what was good for our hearts. Little attention was paid to diet and even smoking was acceptable by some.

But by far the most important factor is to have a healthy diet. Eating the right foods is the most effective way to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, two of the biggest enemies of a healthy heart.

The Bad Fats Often we take the wrong foods, in particular, fats. There are good fats and bad fats. The bad fats are saturated fats, found in red meat, and butter, It’s incredibly dangerous for the heart. Study after study has shown that the more saturated fat people eat, the higher their risks for heart disease. Foods high in saturated fat raise levels of artery-clogging low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol. Foods high in saturated fat are often high in cholesterol as well.

The American Heart Foundation recommends that we limit our intake of saturated fat to less than 7% of our calories each day. For example, if you get 2,000 calories a day, your upper daily limit for saturated fat is 14 grams. That means: in addition to eating fruits, vegetables, and other low-fat foods, you could have 3 ounces of extra-lean ground beef which contains 5 grams of saturated fat), a serving of macaroni and cheese (6 grams), and a half-cup of low-fat frozen yogurt (3 grams).

Another problem fat, called trans fatty acids, has been shown to dramatically increase the amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream. Trans fatty acids are made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oils to turn the liquid oils into solid fats like margarine and shortening. Ironically, they meant to be a healthy alternative to the saturated fat in butter. But it appears that trans fatty acids may be even more harmful than saturated fats. Trans fats raise the bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower the good (HDL) cholesterol, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.

It’s not only margarine and fried foods that may be a problem. Many cookies, cakes, and other snack foods contain “partially hydrogenated oil,” which is also high in trans fatty acids. Because of the health risk, the American Heart Association recommends you limit your daily intake to less than 1% of your total calories.

Some Better Fats Some fats are relatively healthful. You can easily recognize them by looking at the “un” as in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. While these type of fats are still high in calories, in small amounts, they play several beneficial roles. Polyunsaturated fats (found in soy, corn, safflower, sesame, and sunflower oils, as well as nuts and seeds ) help your body to get rid of newly formed cholesterol, therefore, they keep cholesterol levels down and reduce cholesterol deposits on artery walls.

Monounsaturated fats also appear to help lower cholesterol levels as long as the rest of the diet is very low in saturated fats. Although they are a good substitute for saturated fats, both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats should be used in moderation, because their high-calorie counts can lead to weight gain. No more than 30% of your calories should come from fat.

Nuts are particularly good sources of these healthful fats. In a study of Seventh-Day Adventists, researchers found that those who consumed nuts at least four times a week had almost half the risk of fatal heart attacks of those who rarely ate them.

Although the American Heart Association recommends less than 30% of calories from fat, many health-care professionals, recommend even less. They tell people to aim for getting about 20 to 25% of total calories from fat, most of which should be in the form of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.

There is yet another kind of healthy fat, perhaps the king of healthy fats, called omega-3 fatty acids. This is found in most fish (but in particularly in oily, cold-water fish) and also in flaxseed and certain dark greens. Omega-3 can help to prevent clots from forming in the arteries. In addition, they help lower triglycerides, a type of blood fat that, in large amounts, may raise the risk for heart disease.

Studies show that eating fish twice a week, in particular, salmon, because it contains high levels of omega-3, can help to keep your arteries clear and your heart working well. In a study done at the Harvard School of Public Health, scientists found that the death rate from heart disease was 36% lower among people who ate fish twice a week compared to people who ate little or no seafood. The study, which was published in the American Medical Association, also showed that overall mortality was 17% lower among the regular seafood eaters.