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Heart-Healthy Diet

Posted on July 1, 2022 | No Comments on Heart-Healthy Diet

Knowledge of what to eat is good practice for a healthy heart. However, practicing the knowledge of what to eat is tough, especially when it involves changing your eating habits. Cardiovascular diseases are a group of chronic diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels (especially the arteries), and can be acquired from our eating habits that started during our childhood days. Well, it is never too late—we have to take steps to start.

What is a heart-healthy diet? When we talk about heart-healthy diet, we always refer to a low-fat diet. Let us review what fats are and what type of fat is good for the heart.

Fats are good sources of energy. They can be saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fats are described as having no double bonds in their structure. They can be short-, medium-, or long-chain fatty acids depending on the number of carbon (C) chains. Short-chain fatty acids consist of C1–05, e.g., acetate, propionate, butyrate, isobutyrate; medium-chain fatty acids consiste of C6 (caproic acid)–C12 (lauric acid); and long-chain fatty acids, C14 (myristic acid)–C18 (palmitic acid).

The different types of saturated fat are metabolized differently in the body. For example, short-chain fatty acids are produced from fermentation of dietary fiber in our large intestine. Acetate stays in our peripheral tissues as a good source of energy; 85 percent of propionate is taken up by the liver and may inhibit the limiting enzyme for cholesterol synthesis. Butyrate stays in the large intestine (colon) for maintenance of colonic health and is used as food by what we call friendly bacteria, such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus, to outnumber the pathogens present in the colon.

Medium-chain triglycerides do not form cholesterol; they are absorbed in the small intestine and go directly to the portal circulation to produce energy. They are also not stored as fat. Long-chain saturated fatty acids produce cholesterol and are transported by lipoproteins; namely, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL transport cholesterol into the blood and when oxidized, form plaques that can clog our arteries; it is also referred to as “bad cholesterol”. HDL, on the other hand, transport cholesterol into the liver to produce bile acids used to digest fats; it is also referred to as “good cholesterol”.

What about unsaturated fatty acids? This type of fat contains double bonds and can be monounsaturated (one double bond) or polyunsaturated (two or more double bonds). Unsaturated fatty acids have been shown to have protective effects on the heart. However, polyunsaturated fatty acids may be oxidized into trans fatty acid, which can act like long-chain saturated fatty acids.

In summary, the fatty acids that are good for heart health are the medium-chain saturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids. Polyunsaturated can also be good for the heart as long as it is not oxidized during food processing. When you use fats, choose monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil or canola oil. Polyunsaturated fats, found in nuts and seeds, also are good choices for a heart-healthy diet. Medium-chain saturated fatty acids from coconut oil and palm oil can be used for frying because they cannot be converted to trans fat. But moderation is essential. All types of fat are high in calories.

The best way to reduce long-chain saturated and trans fats in your diet is to limit the amount of solid fats—butter, margarine, and shortening—you add to food when cooking and serving. Use low-fat substitutions whenever possible for a heart-healthy diet. For example, top your baked potato with salsa or low-fat yogurt rather than butter, or use low-sugar fruit spread on your toast instead of margarine. You may also want to check the food labels of some cookies, crackers, and chips. Many of these snacks—even those labeled “reduced fat”—may be made with oils containing trans fats. One clue that a food has some trans fat in it is the phrase “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list.

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