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Heart Health & Dietary Fat


For forty years, government, health organisations & nutrition authorities promoted low-fat diets for heart-health & weight-control. Instead of reducing cardiovascular risks & keeping everyone lean as was promised, it led to a surge in obesity & diabetes rates.


In recent years, the focus of nutritional experts has shifted towards overall healthy dietary patterns with an emphasis on eating veg, fruits, whole grain, & legumes instead. Along with a modest or small amount of meat, dairy, eggs, & sweets.


Not all fats are created equally:


Dietary fat is essential for overall health. It provides energy & helps the body absorb vitamins. It also makes meals more satisfying & tastier.


That said, some fats play a role in heart disease, hypercholesterolemia & weight gain.


Saturated fats, found mainly in meat & dairy products, can increase levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, a key contributor to heart disease.


They are solid at room temperature, are also found in baked good & fried foods. Trans-fats can also be manufactured by adding hydrogen to vegetable oils. Over consumption can lead to weight gain & possibly obesity.


Eating more whole or minimally processed, plant-based foods will naturally lower saturated fat intake.



Unsaturated fats on the other hand, tend to be liquid at room temperature & consist of mainly monounsaturated & polyunsaturated fats. These are found in seeds, nuts, olives, avocado & fish, & helps promote cardiovascular health. Omega-3 fatty acids in particular appears to help reduce blood cholesterol, balances HDL:LDL levels, & reduces the risk of blood clotting, heart attack & stroke.


So why do low-fat diets fail & why do they generally lead to weight gain instead of loss?


Here's the back story:


During the 1980's, healthcare providers, government, the food industry, & popular health media promoted the low-fat approach for heart disease prevention & weight loss.


Food manufacturers began cutting fats from their products, replacing the same with refined carbohydrates.


Consumers started limited fat in their diets & filled up on bread, pasta, & low-fat or fat-free alternatives.


Despite an absence of clear evidence of its purported benefits, the low-fat craze became an overarching ideology which led to people eating too many refined carbs & avoiding healthy unsaturated fats altogether.


Now for the science:


  • Consuming highly processed carbohydrates results in a flood of sugar in the bloodstream which triggers a release of insulin to clear the same.

  • This in turn reduces blood sugar levels which can leave you hungry again in a few hours, encouraging overeating & weight gain, which may lead to obesity.

  • Over consumption, or a steady diet of these unhealthy carbs can eventually impair the body's ability to respond to insulin & lead to Type 2 Diabetes (assuming there's a hereditary component present).

  • Both obesity & diabetes are closely linked to a heightened risk of heart disease.

What's the answer?


According to the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University, it's the plant-centric Mediterranean-style diet. And I would agree.


It's not overly restrictive & doesn't require extreme eating habits. It tastes good & has the best evidence from long-term clinical studies for lowering the risk of heart disease.


Try these tips:


  • Start by switching whatever fat you use to extra-virgin olive oil.

  • Eat salad, leafy greens, fruit & veg every day. Try for 3-4 servings per day.

  • Go nuts! A handful of raw nuts are a far healthier snack than a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar. However, moderation should be exercised.

  • Add more whole grains to your meals.

  • Eat at least three servings of legumes per week.

  • Reduce meat consumption, particularly red meat. Choose lean poultry sources in moderation.

  • Eat more fish, particularly oily sources high in Omega-3. Aim for 2 servings per week.

  • Cut sugary beverage consumption, replacing the same with juices with water.

  • Reduce the consumption of high-fat, high-sugar desserts. Opting instead for fresh or poached fruit alternatives, or yogurt.

Start eating healthier by focusing on replacing heavily processed foods & those high in saturated fats with foods rich in unsaturated fats. You don't have to go to extremes, just be conscious of the choices you make.


Disclaimer:


Consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian before starting any dietary program. The information disclosed here should not be used as a substitute for direct medical/nutritional advise from your doctor or other qualified clinician.