How Your Food Choices Affect Blood Fat Levels
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.
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.
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
beans and peas
such as oranges, pears and strawberries
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.
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”
fatty acids (found in walnuts, avocadoes, sardines, salmon, tuna)
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.
fats (these come from foods such as red meat and butter)
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.
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
carbohydrates (not so healthy)
carbs with complex carbs (the healthier carbs)
wheat bread (not just “wheat” bread; the label should say “whole
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