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How Your Food Choices Affect Blood Fat Levels

separator As you probably already know, for most people, what you eat affects your levels of cholesterol and triglycerides—blood fats. The goal is to keep these levels in the healthy range, because when they’re too high, your arteries can become clogged and blood flow to the heart can become blocked. But there’s been so much conflicting information about what kind of diet is good for you that it can be confusing to know what to put on your plate.

What should (and shouldn’t) you eat?
Here’s a basic rundown of foods you should include in your diet, foods you should avoid, and why.

►Do eat soluble fiber. There are two kinds of fiber—soluble and insoluble. The soluble kind is good for your heart because it attaches itself to cholesterol in your digestive tract and actually helps remove cholesterol from your body. 

Soluble fiber foods

  • Oat bran
  • Oatmeal
  • Dried beans and peas
  • Barley
  • Fruits such as oranges, pears and strawberries
  • Brussels sprouts and carrots

Insoluble fiber is also good for you—it’s in lots of different fruits and vegetables—and you should include that in your diet too.

►Do eat healthier fats (in moderation). These fats—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated—have actually been shown to provide heart protection, because they tend to increase the levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol.

Healthier fats

  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (found in walnuts, avocadoes, sardines, salmon, tuna)

►Avoid unhealthy fats. So-called “unhealthy fats” are believed to increase your total cholesterol, increase your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol and lower your HDL, or “good” cholesterol.

Unhealthy fats

  • Saturated fats (these come from foods such as red meat and butter)
  • Trans fatty acids (also listed on ingredients labels as partially hydrogenated oils)—including most snack foods and fast foods, such as potato chips, corn chips, tostado chips, French fries, cookies, and all those other quick, easy, tempting foods that generally fill about two grocery store aisles.

►Avoid or strictly limit refined (simple) carbohydrates. These are the foods that so many of us have come to enjoy and to include in our daily diets. Food like this is lower in fiber. It gets absorbed into the bloodstream more quickly than high fiber foods. In turn, your blood sugar rises more quickly, and your pancreas has to produce a lot of insulin quickly. When this happens, your liver is signaled to pump triglycerides into your bloodstream.

Refined carbohydrates (not so healthy)

  • White bread
  • White pasta
  • Sugary cereals
  • Sugary desserts
  • Candy

Replace refined carbs with complex carbs (the healthier carbs)

  • Whole wheat bread (not just “wheat” bread; the label should say “whole wheat”)
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits

In a nutshell…
You want to protect your heart by keeping your arteries free of plaque. Even if you’re on cholesterol-lowering medication, you still need to do your part by choosing the right foods. (And don’t forget that regular exercise helps keep your blood fats in the healthy range too.)

According to a report presented in May at the American Heart Association’s 5th Annual Conference on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, even with all of the high protein/low carb diets that have become so popular in recent years, it’s still important to limit saturated fats and trans fatty acids; to have moderate consumption of the healthier fats, which come from fish, nuts, some vegetables, olive oil and canola oil; and to get plenty of fiber from fruits, vegetables and grains.

Reading food labels is a great way to figure out whether what you’re eating is a good or not-so-good choice. If you’re not used to checking labels, give it a try for a week or so. When you reach for dessert or snack foods, see whether they contain the unhealthy fats. Just seeing these fats listed may help you decide to make a better choice. You can make your changes gradually, each week replacing some of the unhealthier foods with foods that are better for your heart.

The Natural Way to a Healthy Heart, M. Evans and Company, Inc., New York, New York, 1999. American Heart Association; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; A Weil. Eating Well for Optimum Health. Alfred A Knopf, New York, New York, 2000
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