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Heart and Circulatory
A Heart-Smart Diet
The major culprit behind clogged arteries.
InteliHealth Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


A diet high in saturated fats and trans fats is more likely to raise your blood levels of cholesterol than cholesterol is. These fats increase the level of "bad" cholesterol that clogs arteries.

Saturated fats and trans fats are usually solid at room temperature. In addition, many processed foods contain trans fats and saturated fats. All food labels identify the amount and kinds of fats in the products. If you see "partially hydrogenated fats or oils," this means trans fats are in the product. Also, avoid palm and coconut oils, which are high in saturated fats even though they stay liquid at room temperature. Instead, use monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils.

Here is a quick guide to keep your fats straight:

  • Saturated fats are found primarily in animal and dairy foods — sources that are also often high in cholesterol. These fats are also in snack foods such as potato chips, crackers and cookies. Certain cooking oils (often used to prepare snack foods) such as palm and coconut oils are also high in saturated fats. These fats raise your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol.
  • Polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable and fish oils. Monounsaturated fats are found in olive, canola and peanut oils. Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats lower your cholesterol levels when they are substituted for saturated fats in your diet.

To reduce saturated fats in your diet, and get more heart-healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, try these eating strategies:

Lighten Up

A cup of whole milk has nine more grams of fat (five of them saturated fat) than skim milk. Regular yogurt has five more grams of fat than nonfat yogurt. So whenever possible, choose "light" versions of foods — especially dairy products.

Watch Those Flavorings

Use olive, canola and other vegetable oils rather than palm, coconut and vegetable shortening when you cook or dip bread. If you are watching your calories, frying with a non-stick pan might be a good option.

Give Frozen Foods a Cold Shoulder

Processed frozen foods are often high in saturated fats in order to add flavor and texture to them. So read frozen food labels to make sure you're not adding hidden fats to your diet.

Watch Out for Hydrogenation

Look for the words "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" on food labels for baked goods, candies and other snack foods. Hydrogenation adds hydrogen to heart-healthier unsaturated fats to give them more the texture of animal fats. Unfortunately, many people assume that these vegetable oils are healthier but, in fact, hydrogenated vegetable oils have become partially saturated fats and can raise cholesterol as much as animal fats.


Last updated September 09, 2013

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