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Dietitian column: Heart-healthy foods to eat | Lifestyles

Q. I was recently diagnosed with high cholesterol and have been doing research on saturated fats. I am finding conflicting information, and am more confused than ever. Will you shed some light on this?

A. There’s been a popular, yet confusing, message being relayed over the past five years about eating saturated fats and their effect on heart disease. Let’s talk through what we know.

Scientists aren’t saying that saturated fat is necessarily good for you, but rather that it is more heart-neutral for those that are healthy and active with no disease risk. If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or are at high risk for heart disease, you may want to take note of these two key points from the research:

If you replace saturated fats in your diet (examples: butter, cheese, coconut oil, palm oil) with unsaturated fats (examples: nuts, seeds, fatty fish like tuna and salmon, olive oil, avocados), you may reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

If you replace the saturated fats in your diet with low-fiber, fast-digesting carbohydrates (examples: fruit juice, pop, candy, pasta, rice, energy bars), you’ll likely increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Don’t be deceived by the message being relayed that saturated fat is good for you and should be added to your diet. It’s still not “good” for you, and when eaten in excess, can increase your risk for heart disease leading to a heart attack or stroke.

Here are three foods you could eat to show your heart some love:

Low-carb vegetables

Serving size is ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw or 2 cups raw leafy greens. Examples: green beans, broccoli, spinach, kale, mushrooms, zucchini, yellow squash, Brussels sprouts. These vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber and are low-calorie in comparison to other food groups.


Serving size is 1 ounce or approximately seven walnuts. Walnuts are primarily a healthy fat source with some carbohydrate (fiber) and a bit of protein. They are high in vitamin B6, folate, thiamin – playing a role in cellular energy and a healthy nervous system.


Salmon and tuna are both fatty fish and are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, a polyunsaturated fat. Studies have found when participants replaced just 1% of their saturated fat with the same amount of polyunsaturated fats, their risk of heart attack or stroke decreased by an average of 7%. The American Heart association considers 3.5 ounces of cooked fish or ¾ cup to be a single serving. For adults, two servings per week are recommended to help lower risk for heart disease.

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