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The skinny on fats in the kitchen and at the restaurant: know which ones lower--or raise--your risk of heart disease.

Were ice cream, birthday cake, French fries and hamburgers among your favorite childhood foods? These foods share a common trait in the rich, creamy mouthfeel imparted by fat.

While fat has earned a bad name, it is not necessarily bad for us. Our bodies require fat for energy. But fat comes in several forms, which are not created equal. Saturated fats and trans fats are bad for you, while unsaturated and monounsaturated fats are good for you. Recent research has shown that simply reducing the amount of unhealthy fats we consume can help us live a longer, healthier life.

"We need fat in our diet, and its unrealistic to not eat any saturated fat at all. The goal should be to shift our diet away from animal fats and toward a higher percentage of plant-based fats," says Katherine Patton, RD, LD, with Cleveland Clinic's Preventive Cardiology & Rehabilitation Section.

Bad Fat Facts

Saturated fats and trans fats are undesirable, because they contribute to heart disease. "They create an environment that fosters the formation of plaques in the arteries," Patton explains.

Meats such as beef, pork and lamb, and full-fat dairy products, are the primary sources of saturated fat. This form of fat is also found in coconut oil and oily nuts, such as cashews and Brazil nuts.

Trans fats are man-made fats created by adding hydrogen atoms to vegetable oil. The process turns the oil into a sticky, solid fat that is used to provide a creamy texture and extend shelf life. Trans fats are commonly found in packaged baked goods, shortening, stick margarine and powered coffee creamers.

"Look for the terms 'hydrogenated' or 'partially hydrogenated' on the label and avoid these foods. They are very bad for you," says Patton.

Make Better Choices

Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are healthier, because they do not contribute to the creation of plaques in the arteries. When consumed in place of saturated fats, they actually lower cholesterol levels. These healthy fats are easy to spot, because they do not solidify at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Extra-virgin olive oil is one the healthiest fats. Use it on salads with vinegar or lemon juice in place of creamy ranch dressing. Instead of spreading butter on bread, dip it in extra-virgin olive oil topped with Mrs. Dash's seasoning, or toast the bread and top it with natural peanut butter.

Don't try cooking with extra-virgin olive oil, though--it has a low smoking point and burns easily. Use canola oil instead.

You don't have to give up dairy to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Simply switch to low-fat products. Whole milk has five grams of saturated fat per cup, and two-percent milk has three grams. One-percent has less.

Why It Matters

With dietary preferences rooted in childhood, many people find it hard to change the way they eat. But as we mature, our dietary choices become increasingly important. Harvard researchers have shown that simply shifting a small portion of our diet away from saturated fats and toward healthier fats can lower our risk of heart disease and death.

The researchers examined the diets of more than 83,000 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study and nearly 43,000 men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. They found that in a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, replacing only 100 calories of fat from milk, cheese and yogurt with the equivalent amount of energy calories from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by 10 percent and 24 percent respectively and reduced the risk of death by 13 to 27 percent.

"Anyone can do this. It is a great return for a small effort," says Patton.

Prime Sources of Polyunsaturated Fat

* Soybean, corn and sunflower oils

* Fatty fishes, such as salmon, mackerel, herring and trout

* Walnuts, sunflower seeds

* Tofu

* Soybeans

* Prime sources of monounsaturated fats

* Olive, canola, peanut, safflower and sesame oils

* Avocados

* Peanut butter

* Many nuts and seeds
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Title Annotation:NUTRITION
Publication:Heart Advisor
Date:Jan 1, 2017
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