If you’re trying to do your heart a favor, it’s important to get good fats in your diet
Low-fat diets that get rid of “bad” or saturated fats — the fat found in things we love to eat like french fries, processed foods, cakes, cookies, ice cream, thick steaks, and cheese — is a good thing for your heart. But it’s also important to eat foods that contain the so-called “good” fats. These monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) improve your cholesterol, keep your heart healthy, and lower your risk of stroke.
“It is never too late to make smart changes in your diet,” says researcher Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc, in a recent issue of the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Newsletter. “Shifting towards healthier food choices can improve symptoms or decrease risk for developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease — all of which are more common in older than in younger adults.”
Adding these healthy fats to your diet is easy — and while we can’t promise you won’t miss ice cream and a fat, juicy steak, the foods that contain them can be tasty too. Here are eight foods that are rich in good fats, along with some recipe suggestions:
Why They’re Good For You: Walnuts are one of the few foods high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fat thought to protect against heart disease. ALA is linked to heart health because it improves blood pressure.
Recipe Tip: Toast the almonds, which helps release their flavor and gives them a nice crunch. Sprinkle a tablespoon on yogurt or oatmeal.
Why They’re Good For You: Olive oil is a great way to get monounsaturated fats in your diet, but so are olives. They also deliver plant sterols — compounds that can lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. (Note: If you’re on a low-sodium diet, you should avoid olives or soak them in cold water to remove the sodium.)
Recipe Tip: Go to the olive bar at your supermarket and choose a variety of olives. For a 100-calorie snack that can help satisfy a late-afternoon salt craving, eat 1 1/3 ounces of pitted olives.
Why They’re Good For You: Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. They are also high in fiber, which helps you feel full; plus, they contain potassium and vitamin C.
Recipe Tip: Start the day off right with an easy-to-fix, heart-smart breakfast. Spread a mashed avocado onto whole-grain toast.
Why It’s Good For You: Canola oil is an excellent heart-healthy choice for cooking. It’s loaded with monounsaturated fats, which can raise your good cholesterol and lower your bad cholesterol. While olive oil is also a good choice for cooking, canola oil has a higher “burn” or “smoke” point and is a better substitute for butter in cake and cookie recipes.
Recipe Tip: Substitute 1/4 cup of butter with 3 tbsp. of canola oil.
Why It’s Good For You: The unsaturated fats, protein and fiber in peanut butter help satisfy you longer than other snacks because it takes longer to digest. And, according to Prevention magazine, just one serving — 2 tbl — is also packed with “3 mg of the powerful antioxidant vitamin E, 49 mg of bone-building magnesium, 208 mg of muscle-friendly potassium, and 0.17 mg of immunity-boosting vitamin B6.” Buy organic natural peanut butter — these tend to have less sodium and sugar.
Recipe Tip: When you’re feeling a bit hungry in the middle of the day, don’t reach for potato chips. Instead, slice an apple into horizontal pieces, measure 2 tbl of peanut butter and spread it on the apple slices for a filling snack.
Why It’s Good For You: As an “oily” fish, salmon is chock-full of DHA and EPA — two kinds of omega-3 fats that can reduce inflammation, lowering risk of skin cancer and heart disease. Trout, mackerel, sardines and herring are also good choices for getting this type of omega-3 fats into your diet.
Recipe Tip: Make a simple salmon, avocado and baby spinach salad for lunch. Squeeze lemon juice on a salmon fillet and bake for 20 minutes or until done. Place 3 cups of baby spinach on a plate and top with the baked salmon, thinly sliced avocado and cherry tomatoes. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle lemon juice on top; add salt and pepper to taste.
Why It’s Good For You: Like walnuts, flaxseed is high in the plant-based form of omega-3 fatty acids, ALA. It also contains lignans, which have both plant estrogen and antioxidant qualities. And if you want an easy way to add fiber to your diet, flaxseed could be the answer.
Recipe Tip: You can buy prepared flaxseed meal, but because of its high fat content, the ground seeds can go rancid quickly. Grind whole flaxseed, using a coffee grinder or mini food processor. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons over cereal, yogurt or a salad.
Why They’re Good For You: Almonds are high in monounsaturated fat, the kind that helps improve your cholesterol levels. They’re a smart choice for snacking because they provide fiber and protein.
Recipe Tip: For a delicious almond-crusted tilapia supper, grind 1/4 cup of whole almonds with 1 tsp. of your favorite seasoned salt, such as Mrs. Dash, and black pepper. Brush Dijon mustard over both sides of two tilapia fillets; then dredge in the almond mixture. Heat 1 tbl of canola oil in a skillet; add the fish to the pan and cook 3 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve with steamed sugar snap peas and brown rice. Yum.