Heart-Healthy Fats for Every Body
Debbie J., MS, RD contributed this article –
We’re on a mission to help Augie Nieto’s nonprofit charity find a cure for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), which is a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that can impact anyone. Augie was diagnosed with ALS over 10 years ago and established Augie’s Quest to help find a cure for ALS. For over 5 years, LA Fitness has held an annual fundraiser each February to raise funds for Augie’s Quest. This year’s fundraiser, Action for ALS, will be on Saturday, February 25.
To stay committed to healthy eating & help improve his longevity, Augie focuses on a nutritious diet that includes extra virgin olive oil and good fats. Choosing the best types of fat is indispensable for your heart health and weight management.
You may have heard that a high intake of saturated fat, trans fat and dietary cholesterol raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. But did you know, recent studies show that consuming unsaturated fat as the predominant form of dietary fat, combined with adequate omega-3 fats, actually protects your heart from coronary artery disease1? The impact is even greater in combination with a plant-based diet low in salt and sugar2 and in conjunction with an abundance of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as the main forms of carbohydrates1.
Augie Nieto, Founder of Augie’s Quest
Substituting saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol production by the liver, meaning less potential for artery-clogging plaque. Keeping the “pipes clear” with healthy fats and adequate fiber is only one piece of the puzzle. Preventing damage to the epithelial cells lining the vascular wall and avoiding high blood pressure are also critical to avoiding stroke and heart attack. Unsaturated fats do both. In particular, olive oil’s polyphenols have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant functions3 to protect epithelial cells.
What’s the difference?
Virgin olive oil is result of cold extraction of the fat from olives, resulting in acidity less than 2%. Extra virgin olive oil is a higher quality virgin oil with less than 0.8% acidity.
The Mediterranean diet, of which olive oil is the predominant fat source, is associated with increased longevity3 as well as reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, improved health, lower mortality, and prevention of cancer and age-related cognitive decline as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Olive oil has bioactive compounds that alter cells’ gene expression, including those active in pathways of the aging process. In short, cells and tissues live better, longer.
Changing the fat that you eat may also change your body fat. While weight loss is multi-factorial, studies indicate that a high monounsaturated fat diet induces more weight loss compared to one with high saturated fat4. Why so? Olive oil, largely comprised of unsaturated fat, also contains phenolic compounds which have been shown to positively affect insulin sensitivity3 and therefore blood sugar control. These benefits are metabolically beneficial and that translates to better fat burning.
How to maximize your heart-healthy fats without increasing calories:
- Use virgin olive oil for cooking in place of vegetable oil
- Replace cream cheese with nut butter on bagels
- Substitute marinara or pesto for alfredo sauce on pasta
- Choose fish (omega-3 source) instead of meat three times per week
- Opt for avocado instead of cheese on sandwiches
- Try hummus in place of cream-based dips
- Use an oil-based spread on toast & rolls instead of butter
- Munch on a handful of nuts instead of a bowlful of chips
Use healthy unsaturated fats to your advantage, and your body will thank you in the long run!
This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.
- Optimal Diets for Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease. Hu, F; Willet, W. Journal of the American Medical Association 2002; 288 (20): 2569-2578.
- A Plant-Based Diet, Atherogenesis, and Coronary Artery Disease Prevention. Tuso, P; Stoll, S; Li, W. Permanente Journal 2015 Winter; 19 (1): 62-67.
- Olive Oil and the Hallmarks of Aging. Fernández del Río, L.; Gutiérrez-Casado, E.; Varela-López, A.; Villalba, J.M. Molecules2016, 21 (2), 163.
- Effect of Dietary Fatty Acid Composition on Substrate Utilization and Body Weight Maintenance in Humans. Krishnan, S and Cooper, J. European Journal of Nutrition 2014 53 (3): 691-710.