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What are heart-healthy fats?

When it comes to heart health, monounsaturated fat is the best fat. It helps lower your total and unhealthy low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels and boosts healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. In a Canadian study, volunteers who replaced 13 percent of carbohydrates with monounsaturated fat lowered their LDL cholesterol by 35 percent and improved their HDL cholesterol by 12.5 percent in just 4 weeks. Smart sources of monounsaturated fat include olive oil, canola oil, nuts and nut oils, avocados, and sesame oil.
Not all fats are bad for your heart and arteries. Foods containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as olive or canola oil, nuts, fatty fish, and flaxseed, may be beneficial to your heart when consumed in moderation. In fact, choosing these healthier types of fat may be more important than restricting the amount of fat you consume each day.

A Mediterranean-style diet is a way of eating that provides moderate levels of monounsaturated fat mainly from olive oil. This diet is also low in saturated fat and includes fish as well as many fruits and vegetables. Eating this way has been shown to have a protective effect on the heart.

Polyunsaturated fats are also important for heart health. Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat found mainly in fatty, cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring) and some plant sources, such as flaxseed. Omega 3 fatty acids may help prevent heart rhythm problems in certain people, which may reduce the risk of sudden death. They may also help decrease triglycerides (another type of fat circulating in the blood), reduce blood pressure slightly, and reduce blood clotting.

Try these tips to replace unhealthy saturated fat with healthier mono- and poly-unsaturated fats:
  • Use only liquid oils such as olive oil and canola oil for baking and cooking needs.
  • Each week eat at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, herring).
  • Eat a one-ounce serving of nuts at least 4 times per week to replace snacks high in saturated and trans fat. 
  • Add a teaspoon or two of freshly ground flaxseed to recipes for baked goods, yogurt or homemade fruit smoothies to boost omega 3 fatty acid intake.
  • Consider asking your doctor if you should take fish oil supplements or omega 3 fatty acid supplements.
If you want to eat a heart-healthy diet, watch unhealthy fat and cholesterol. Limiting the amount of saturated and trans fats you eat can help you lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of coronary artery disease. Choose healthy fats like those found in olive oil, canola oil and trans fat-free margarine instead of the ones in butter, creamy sauces, hydrogenated margarine and shortening. Look for monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, like the ones found in healthy oils, nuts, seeds, soy (tofu) and seafood.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.