How to Use Nutrition to Fight Heart Disease

by Jackie Wicks

Mono- & Polyunsaturated Fats Are Great for the Heart!

Not all fats are equal, especially when it comes to CVD risk. If your cholesterol levels are already high, then lowering the amount of saturated fat in your diet and increasing the amount of mono- and polyunsaturated fats will help bring cholesterol levels down.

Even if your meal contains no cholesterol, different macronutrients can increase or decrease the amount of cholesterol your body produces. Very worst are trans fats, which not only increase LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) to a great extent, they also lower HDL (good) cholesterol. The very best fats are mono- and polyunsaturated fats, both of which lower LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol.

Saturated fat is a bit more complicated when it comes to CVD risk. Not all saturated fats affect cholesterol in the same way, but unfortunately, the most common saturated fat in the Western diet (palmitic acid) is the one that tends to be the most harmful to our ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol.

Where things get complicated is when we try to determine how important HDL cholesterol is to CVD risk. We know that high levels of HDL cholesterol are important, but what we’re still unsure of is whether high levels of HDL are more important than low levels of LDL cholesterol. Some research shows that having a high level of HDL decreases risk significantly, other research shows that HDL essentially has no effect on risk when compared to lowering LDL cholesterol.

This is a tremendously important question to answer, as it will help determine whether all saturated fats should be avoided by those with a high risk of CVD or whether some saturated fats are okay, like the ones found in coconut oil that beneficially affect our total to HDL cholesterol ratio.

Until this question is well-answered, I would hedge on the safe side if you are at high risk for CVD or currently suffer from CVD and avoid all saturated fats. No matter what the research ultimately concludes, we do know that mono- and polyunsaturated fats (the fats found in nuts, seeds, fish, and olive oil) have a more profound effect on both LDL and HDL cholesterol even than the saturated fats in coconut oil, and will do more to lower risk. On the other hand, if you currently have low risk of CVD, then it’s unlikely the saturated fats in coconut oil will increase risk, even if they do increase total cholesterol levels. Remember, in the end, these are risk factors, and we need to consider them in terms of each other and current level of health, not in isolation!

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