Effect of good fats and bad fats on heart health

Heart health is affected by a number of factors, including genetics, exercise, stress and, of course, diet. Some helpful guidelines for a heart-healthy diet include controlling portions; consuming low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables; eating whole grains; and avoiding sodium. You also want to make sure to limit intake of bad fats and consume enough good fats.
Oftentimes when people hear the word “fats” in the context of diet, they think of something negative that should be avoided at all costs. As it turns out, however, some fats are a necessary part of the diet. Fats range a spectrum from “good” to “bad,” and good fats provide essential fatty acids and energizing fuel, keep skin soft, allow certain vitamins to be dissolved into the bloodstream and help maintain a healthy heart. Knowing the difference between good fats and bad fats is an important step in making dietary decisions conducive to heart and overall health.
What are good fats?
Good fats are also called unsaturated fats. There are two types of unsaturated fats — monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature and solidify if refrigerated. They can be found in such foods as almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, olive oil, peanut oil, peanut butter, almond butter and avocado.
Polyunsaturated fats are also known as “essential fats” because the body cannot make them on its own and therefore needs them from food. A certain type of polyunsaturated fat called omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, trout and sardines. They can also be found in flaxseed, walnuts and canola oil, but these foods contain a less active form of than fatty fish. Omega-6 fatty acids are another type of polyunsaturated fat, which can be found in tofu, roasted soy beans and soy nut butter, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, corn oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil and soft margarine.
How good fats affect heart health
Monounsaturated fats can improve blood cholesterol level and decrease risk of cardiovascular disease. Polyunsaturated fats can lower both blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of coronary artery disease, lower blood pressure levels and protect against irregular heartbeats.
It is best to get omega-3 fatty acids from food, not from supplements. Except in the case of people who already have heart disease, there is no data to suggest that omega-3 supplements decrease the risk of heart disease. Fatty fish is thought to be the most effective source of omega-3 fatty acids in preventing cardiovascular disease.
What are bad fats?
Most bad fats are solid at room temperature. The two types of bad fats are saturated fats and trans fatty acids (more commonly called trans fats). Most saturated fats come from animal products. They can be found in fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb; dark chicken meat and poultry skin; whole milk; butter; cheese; sour cream; ice cream; coconut oil; palm oil; cocoa butter and lard. Although they are not as unhealthy as trans fats, saturated fats should still be eaten sparingly.
Trans fats are the worst kinds of fats. Natural trans fats are found in small amounts in dairy and meat. The trans fats that are of more concern are artificial trans fats, which occur when liquid oils are hardened into partially hydrogenated fats. Sources of artificial trans fats include french fries, doughnuts, deep-fried fast foods, margarine, vegetable shortening, baked goods, crackers, microwave popcorn and other processed snack foods.
How bad fats affect heart health
Eating too much saturated fat can increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, also known as “bad cholesterol” levels. Trans fats also increase LDL levels while suppressing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels, or “good cholesterol” levels. Trans fat consumption is also linked to increased risk of inflammation in the body, which can result in heart disease.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting trans fat consumption to 2 grams per day, including natural trans fats. U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines simply recommend keeping trans fat consumption as low as possible. In addition to increasing bad cholesterol levels, both saturated and trans fats clog the arteries.
Fats are a necessary part of a heart-healthy diet. When consuming fats, it is important to distinguish between good fats and bad fats, which have different effects on the heart. Replacing unhealthy fats with healthy fats is an effective first step in maintaining good heart health.
Resources HealthLine and WebMD

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