Eating Healthy for Better Lipids and Heart Health

  • Published
  • By Kirsten David
  • Health Promotion Flight

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is made in your liver and also comes from some food we eat. Too much cholesterol in your body can put you at risk for heart disease, heart attack or stroke. The biggest influence on blood cholesterol level is a mix of fats and carbohydrates in your diet.  For most people, dietary cholesterol is not as problematic as once believed. According to the 2015 dietary guidelines, there is no available evidence showing relationships between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum (blood) cholesterol and dietary cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern for overconsumption; even eggs are now okay.

There are four types of fat in our food: monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats and trans-fat. Our focus should be on consuming more of the heart healthy unsaturated fats, limit the saturated fats, and try to avoid trans-fat. Mono and polyunsaturated fats are the best type of fat to eat. They do not increase your cholesterol or triglycerides and they can be found in a wide variety of plant products as well as fatty fish. Examples include: olive oil, canola oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, salmon, mackerel, herring and tuna. Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of the polyunsaturated fats that our body cannot make so it is essential to get them in your diet.  They help to lower triglycerides, decrease inflammation and improve blood vessel function. There are three main types of Omega-3 fats: eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA and alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. EPA and DHA are found primarily in fish and ALA is found primarily in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, leafy vegetables and grass fed animal products.  Because of this, the American Heart Association recommends to get at least two servings of fatty fish per week. If you cannot eat fish or do not get enough fish each week, you can look into taking a fish oil supplement.

Saturated fat is found primarily in animal products (some plant fats, such as coconut and palm oils, are also saturated fats.) When eaten in excess, saturated fats may increase cholesterol and triglycerides.  These type of fats will be solid at room temperature and include foods like fatty cuts of meat, whole milk, cream, cheese, butter and yogurt. Trans fat is the worst fat to be consuming because it will increase cholesterol and triglycerides and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol. Trans fat is found in 37% of grocery store foods such as: margarine, cookies, chips, microwave popcorn, coffee creamers, crackers, frozen pizza, ready to use frostings, peanut butter, and many more. To find out if your food has trans fat in it, look on the label in the ingredients section. If you see the words “partially hydrogenated oil,” that means that food has trans-fat even if the label itself says “0 grams”. 

In the typical American diet, most people are consuming too much saturated and trans fats and very little unsaturated fats. There are many ways that you can switch that around. First start by choosing low-fat animal products such as low-fat cheese, milk, yogurt and lean meats. Choosing dairy free yogurts and milks will also decrease your saturated fat intake. Then start adding more healthy fats to your diet. For example, you can sprinkle nuts on your oatmeal, use avocado as a spread on your sandwich, or use flax orchia seeds in your smoothies. 

Another thing to consider when focusing on your heart health is the type of carbohydrates that you are consuming. Simple carbohydrates in excess can cause elevated cholesterol due to the body not needing the excess and using a by-product of carbohydrate breakdown to make cholesterol and triglycerides. Examples of simple carbohydrates are: cakes, cookies, candy, sugar, white bread, white pasta, white rice and sugary drinks such as soda. Instead, choose complex carbohydrates that have a lot of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps to lower the bad (LDL) cholesterol and decrease risk for heart disease. Soluble fiber can be found in whole grain bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, fruits, vegetables, oats, quinoa, beans and nuts.

If you would like to follow a particular diet that is good for your heart health, the Mediterranean diet is highly recommended. The Mediterranean diet plan can help reduce your risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. This diet is natural and focuses on less processed food. It is flexible with a wide variety of different foods you can eat and incorporate into your lifestyle and it is lower cost due to buying less red meat, refined grains, desserts and fast foods.

For more information on the Mediterranean diet or a heart healthy diet please contact the base dietitian, Kirsten David at or 846-1483.