Eat your way to a healthy heart

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Ever heard that fish is good for your heart, or that Eskimos have less heart trouble? That nuts and avocados have lots of 'good fats'? Add in a few more words like cholesterol, unsaturated and saturated fats, and it's easy to get confused by matters of the heart! This article will clear up some confusion by explaining cholesterol, good unsaturated fats, bad saturated fats, and all those great heart healthy foods like fish, red wine, dark chocolate, fruit and nuts.


This is the only way fat can be transported around the blood stream: catching a ride on a specialised protein. Together they are called cholesterol. High Density Lipoproteins (HDLs, remember H for Happy) transport good fats, and Low Density Lipoproteins (LDLs, remember L for Lousy) transport bad fats. To reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk you must eat proportionally more HDL good unsaturated fats than LDL bad saturated fats in a ratio about 4:1.

Unsaturated Fats Are Good Fats. In transportable cholesterol form they literally clean your arteries and are also much harder to store as body fat. However, this is still fat and eating too much will cause weight gain.

Unsaturated fats come from:

  • Oils: olive, canola, sesame, peanut, sunflower, safflower
  • Nuts: cashews, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil, peanuts
  • Fish: salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, swordfish, herring – think fish that lives in cold water
  • Other: avocado, peanut butter, seeds (particularly linseed/flaxeed)

Good fats should make up 80-95 per cent of the total fat you eat.

Saturated Fats Are Bad Fats. In LDL cholesterol form, these fats stick to your arteries, attack the lining, and are easily stored as body fat.

Saturated fats come from:

  • Full fat dairy: cream, butter, ice-cream, milk, yoghurt, cheese (particularly hard cheeses e.g. cheddar. soft cheeses like ricotta, cottage and feta are a better option).
  • Meat: visible fat such as marbling/visible white streaks in red meat, crackling on pork, skin on chicken
  • Confectionary: pastries, biscuits, pies, deep fried foods, milk chocolate, processed foods, anything that says 'hydrogenated vegetable oil'

Saturated fats are unavoidable and necessary in small doses. These should account for only 10-15 per cent of your daily fat intake. To reduce CVD risk, choose reduced-fat dairy product options, use avocado or peanut butter as a butter replacement , and always choose lean meat where possible.

What’s All the Fuss about Fish and Eskimos?

Scientists believe Eskimos have reduced CVD risk because of a diet rich in oily fish, and high activity levels by nature of their culture. Oily fish contains Omega 3 Fatty Acids, a kind of HDL that has three super functions: keeping your arteries supple and elastic; cleaning up LDL cholesterol (bad fats) therefore helping to reduce your total cholesterol level; and thinning blood, making it easier to pass through arteries and reducing risk of clotting. Heart surgeons recommend eating fish three times per week.

Red Wine, Dark Chocolate, Fruit & Nuts – The Power of Antioxidants

All of these foods are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants help to prevent the corrosive effect of bad fats and cholesterol build-up on artery walls.

Red wine contains resveratrol, a potent antioxidant found in red grape skins, and one glass of red wine per night can reduce CVD risk.

Fruits and nuts are high in vitamins C & E, which are antioxidants as well as vitamins. Try to consume two serves of fruit per day particularly those which are purple, red, or orange, like blueberries, raspberries and strawberries and a small amount of nuts (about half the size of your palm).

Dark chocolate is associated with CVD risk reduction, but scientists are unsure how chocolate with 70%+ cocoa helps.

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