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Can the risk of heart disease be reduced if I consume fewer fats?

Changing your diet to one low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol reduces blood cholesterol, a primary cause of atherosclerosis. Eating less fat should also help you lose weight, thus lowering your heart disease risk. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, endorsed by the major heart organizations, is one strategy for lowering high blood pressure. It is rich in lower-calorie foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, as well as being low in sodium.

The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) Diet plan calls for less than 7% of your calories to come from saturated fat and for less than 200 mg of dietary cholesterol. Twenty-five percent to 35% or fewer of total daily calories can come from fat, provided most of these calories are from unsaturated fat, which doesn't raise cholesterol. Sodium intake should be limited to no more than 2,400 mg per day. In addition, the guidelines encourage the use of certain foods rich in soluble fiber to boost the diet's LDL-lowering power.

In addition to these low-fat dietary approaches, some large studies also point to the Mediterranean-style diet as an alternative pattern of eating to reduce your risk of heart disease. Like the low-fat diets, the Mediterranean eating pattern focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, but it also includes olive oil as a significant source of monounsaturated fat and wine in low to moderate amounts. The major protein sources are dairy, fish and poultry, with minimal red meat.

The Mediterranean eating style allows a higher percentage of calories from fat than the low-fat diets typically endorsed by health organizations, but several recent major studies have shown that the diet can lower risk for heart attacks and diabetes and is an alternative to low-fat diets.

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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.