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Having a Heart for Low-Fat Foods

Updated on April 13, 2009

The A-B-Cs for a Healthy Heart

Heart Attack Warning Signs

If you or a loved one have any of the following symptoms, do not delay! Dial 911 immediately to get assistance. You would rather be wrong than dead:

  • Squeezing sensation in your chest, or a feeling of pain or fullness in the center of your body that lasts for several minutes.
  • Radiating pain into the neck, jaw, shoulders, arms, back or abdomen.
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Sweaty, shaky

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Over 12.5 million Americans are believed to suffer from this ailment, and more than 500,000 die each year as a result. Many people, like veteran news journalist Tim Russert, suddenly pass away without any prior signs or symptoms. Sadly, the disease is quite preventable with some easy lifestyle changes.

Three main factors that can help contribute to a long and healthy life include: (1) regular exercise; (2) stopping (or not starting) smoking or using other tobacco products; and (3) eating a healthy diet. As stated by the American Heart Association:

The American Heart Association recommends that you keep your intake of total fat to between 25 percent and 35 percent, your saturated fat consumption to less than 7 percent and your intake of trans fat to less than 1 percent of your total daily calories.

The World Health Organization, the Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control concur.

So what does this mean? How can I do this?

Don't put a strain on your heart!
Don't put a strain on your heart!

What is Saturated Fat?

Generally speaking, saturated fat is fat that is solid at room temperature. You'll find it most often in animal meats and skin, whole milk dairy products (butter, ice cream, etc.), lard, and cooking oils such as coconut and palm. It is also found in eggs and chocolate.

When ingested, saturated fat tends to raise the LDL (low density lipoprotein, aka "bad cholesterol") levels of individuals and can, over time, result in heart disease. This type of fat raises blood cholesterol levels by interfering with the entry of cholesterol into cells. As a result, cholesterol may stay in the blood stream longer, eventually adding to plaque build-up in blood vessels.

Scientifically speaking, the saturated fatty acids in foods containing saturated fat lack double bonds between carbon atoms of the fatty acid chain. Thus, they are said to be "fully saturated" with hydrogen atoms.

Studies have shown that high consumption of saturated fats (more than 7% of your daily total of calories) not only leads to high cholesterol, but also heart disease, atherosclerosis and stroke.


  • Cook with olive oil, flax seed oil or canola oil, rather than coconut oil, palm oil or shortening
  • Trim visible fat from meats before cooking
  • Avoid high fat, marbled red meat cuts (ask your butcher for guidance)
  • Use 1% or skim milk
  • Choose sherbet or low-fat ice cream if you must have dessert
  • Check the labels of packaged foods: saturated fat and trans fat grams and the relative percentage of recommended daily value (i.e 50%) are now listed

If only they made it so easy for us!
If only they made it so easy for us!
Obesity is a problem that's more than skin deep
Obesity is a problem that's more than skin deep

Commercial Advocating Banning of Trans Fats

What is Trans Fat?

The most unhealthy of all fats, "trans fat," is created when liquid fat is solidified into hard fat - think of margarine and shortening. The way this is done is by injecting hydrogen into vegetable oil through the hydrogenation process. Foods that contain trans fats have a longer shelf life and are said to taste better than those without. One can bet that there is a fairly high amount of trans fat lurking in a box of Twinkies or Ding-Dongs! Other culprits include crackers, baked goods, candy, cookies, chips and similar snacks, and fried foods.

Again, major health organizations recommend that no more than 1% of your total daily calories come from trans fat sources. As noted above, you will find the amount of trans fat listed on the Nutrition Information printed on all pre-packed foods. Just like saturated fat, trans fat will raise LDL levels which can result in heart disease and other life-threatening conditions.


  • Replace stick margarine with a heart-healthy spread
  • Avoid using lard or shortening
  • Read Nutrition Labels closely and be an informed consumer
  • If in doubt - fresh is best. Choose an apple for a snack rather than a bag of chips.

Overall cholesterol (driven primarily by saturated and trans fats) is a major contributor to heart disease
Overall cholesterol (driven primarily by saturated and trans fats) is a major contributor to heart disease

Healthy Brown Rice Breakfast

Tomatillo Gazpacho with Avocado and Shrimp
Tomatillo Gazpacho with Avocado and Shrimp

What is Unsaturated Fat?

Everyone needs a little bit of fat in their diet. The caveat is that it has to be the right kind of fat, and in moderation (remember the recommendation above - no more than a total amount of 25-30% of your total daily calories, from all kinds of fat combined). Fat is an energy source (not as efficient as carbohydrate, however), and it helps in the absorption of certain vitamins. Included in our meals, fat adds taste and helps us feel full. For growing children, fats are an especially important part of a diet, particularly from newborn through age 2.

Unsaturated fats are divided into two categories - polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Poly- and mono- are references to the number of double bonds in the fatty acid chain (recall, above, the saturated fats have no double bonds). Unsaturated fats do not raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol and may actually improve your health if you do not consume too much. You can find these "healthy" fats in nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, soybean oil and canola oil. Omega-3 and Omega-6 rich foods, such as salmon, trout, herring, mackerel and sardines also contain unsaturated fats.

In addition to watching your overall intake of fats, limiting your consumption of saturated fats and trans fats, you should check Nutrition Facts labels to ensure that you eat no more than 300 grams of dietary cholesterol a day. People with heart disease and/or high LDL levels may be directed to restrict their consumption to no more than 200 grams per day by their physician.

Note which foods are at the top (use very sparingly)
Note which foods are at the top (use very sparingly)

How Can You Cook and Eat Healthy?

Think you have to give up delicious tasting food simply because you have high cholesterol or other risks of heart disease? Think again. Eating a healthy diet is neither difficult, bland or expensive. There are entire sections of bookstores devoted to low-fat and non-fat recipe cookbooks. Remember, if you eat a dinner with moderate amounts of good fat, let's say a salmon steak and salad with sliced avocados and walnuts, then your dessert should be non-fat so you do not exceed the overall recommended percentage of fat/calories.

What kind of dessert would possibly be worth eating if it is non-fat? How about one made by Haagen-Daz! This company, best known for its rich, high-fat ice creams, also makes some deliciously fruity sorbets. You could also try a low-fat yogurt pie, which is easy to make and nutritious, as well. Finally, how about ending the evening with a bowl full of fresh seasonal berries? Stay away from the whipped cream, sprinkle a little bit of sugar or sweetener if desired, and feel proud of yourself for sticking to a heart-healthy diet.

Conversely, if it is a special occasion and you want to splurge on a dessert that likely will exceed your daily allotment of fat calories, then you'll want to find a non-fat or very low-fat option for your meal. Vegan or vegetarian recipes are probably your best bet. Or, you can alter "traditional" recipes by replacing meat with soy products and deleting cheese (or using fat-free cheese) and other dairy products.

Create a filling salad as your main course. Start with leafy dark greens (spinach is excellent), add tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, chopped green onions, chopped mini sweet peppers, chopped mini carrots. Sprinkle very lightly with extra virgin olive oil and generously with balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste.

Haagen Daz Raspberry Sorbet (Fat Free)
Haagen Daz Raspberry Sorbet (Fat Free)

Quick and Healthy Egg White Omelette

Lime-Jalapeno Chicken
Lime-Jalapeno Chicken

Now that you know the basics about good and bad fats, cholesterol and risks of heart disease, it is time to start taking better care of yourself. If you smoke, stop! If you drink, cut down or stop, as well. Life is all about moderation. If you truly want to enjoy living, then it requires that you make some healthy choices so that you don't end up suffering from obesity and/or life-threatening diseases. If you want to eat a doughnut, then make it something you do only once a month. You'll savor those saturated fats so much more!

Have the heart to make healthy choices and cut down on fat-laden choices. Consciously limit your intake of overall fats (even unsaturated fats) and be vigilant in limiting consumption of saturated fats and trans fats. Instead of a life sentence, consider it to be a "long-life" prescription. Here's to your health!

Fresh is delicious and good for your heart
Fresh is delicious and good for your heart


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      The 4th Edition of this cookbook is truly weodnrful. Each of the recipes I have tried result in very flavorful and delicious dishes. I recommend this book to all cooks, those with cholesterol issues as well as those who are fortunate not to have them.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      this book was supposed to have been for gneatrihg recipes but the only thing i gathered from it was whoever wrote it was very wealthy b/c the recipes were too expensive for this girl to fix and a lot of the ingredients i have never heard of so much for the AMA cookbooks. needless to say i wont be ordering anything else they put out.i gave it to the public library.however i did get good information from the paperback book THE NEW 8-WEEK CHOLESTEROL CURE by Robert E. Kowalski and the book was a lot less money. I bought it at the same time from Amazon.and that book is still gracing my shelf. LOVE IT. thanx Amazon.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      7 years ago

      My hubby was recently diagnosed with a heart problem and we are changing lifestyle eating habits. Your article is very helpful and encouraging. Love the cartoon! Great hub and well written. Thanks.

    • New Day profile imageAUTHOR

      New Day 

      11 years ago from Western United States

      Hi Sixtyorso, thank you for the excellent comment! So glad to hear that you are doing better with your health. I definitely agree that we need to change our lifestyles to live better lives. Yes, there may be some that get away with eating poorly, but for most, cutting out the fat, exercise and no smoking is the way to a long life. New Day. p.s. I will check out your hubs too!

    • sixtyorso profile image

      Clive Fagan 

      11 years ago from South Africa

      Hi New Day.

      Your Hub is highly relevant. Two years ago I was 15 kilos heavier, a couch potato and an undiagnosed cancer sufferer. Today I am slim, fit and eat (mostly) healthy foods. My battle is described in a couple of hubs (a day in the ;life... and How I lost .. ). Thanks for a well written excellent hub. I know there are exceptions to every rule. but....

    • New Day profile imageAUTHOR

      New Day 

      11 years ago from Western United States

      Thanks SweetiePie! No doubt a healthy diet is a key ingredient (so to speak) to a living a long life. I appreciate your stopping by! New Day

    • SweetiePie profile image


      11 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Eating healthy is essential to a healthy lifestyle. Thanks for the informative hub.

    • New Day profile imageAUTHOR

      New Day 

      11 years ago from Western United States

      Thank you Desert Blondie! So glad to hear that your husband has improved his diet and lost some weight. I'm sure that his diabetes doctor is happier and his heart is probably healthier too. Keep up the great work, and he may eventually get to normal/average, yet. You both should be in better health by keeping those processed foods, full of saturated and trans fats out of the pantry.

    • desert blondie profile image

      desert blondie 

      11 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen

      Great hub, New thorough...your diligent efforts to make this really informative hub are commendable! My hubby diabetic and at times it scares me so badly...but, in the 10 1/2 years we've been married he's 30 pounds lighter...rare in his family where I watch his relatives getting heavier and heavier with each decade! But, he just won't make the effort to get to "normal/average"...ah well, I'll just keep stocking the fridge with healthy 'real' food and keeping the pantry empty of packaged salty-fatty-sugary processed foods. Again, great info. here!

    • New Day profile imageAUTHOR

      New Day 

      11 years ago from Western United States

      Hi budwood - I appreciate your comments! I always believe that better safe than sorry, but you are certainly an example of the fact that it may not happen to everyone. Just like some smokers can live for years. In fact, my husband's grandmother sat in a tiny little chair in her home in Victoria until she was 89, smoking and drinking straight scotch. She barely ate anything except some Ensure. We were amazed that she lived as long as she did. But I digress. Not everyone is as fortunate as you or Nana. I wish you continued long and enjoyable years ahead! Thank you for stopping by and sharing your perspective.

    • budwood profile image


      11 years ago from Southern Nevada

      You have some good information, but I disagree with some of your comments.  Specifically, I ingest a lot of fats, including about a quart of heavy cream every week. Yes, I have high choresterol and have always had high levels.  But here I am, enjoying my eighties.  Also, my photo that accompanies this was taken about 30 months ago (when I was 79 years of age), which indicates that I'm in O.K. shape.

      Athough the American Heart Association wants to put everyone in a one-size-fits-all food box, it just doesn't happen that way.  I can eat fats, but cheese and milk will kill me as will the white flour and sugar carbos listed in the "nutrition" triangle.  I'm sure that other people can exist on other stuff (like ice cream: sugar and milk). Maybe I'll die tomorrow, but it's more likely from a jealous husband or a bicycle crash than from eating fats.

    • New Day profile imageAUTHOR

      New Day 

      11 years ago from Western United States

      Thank you - I appreciate the comments! Just look at the Nutrition Facts labels, or better yet, eat more fresh foods! Your heart will thank you.

    • TheCynosure profile image


      11 years ago from India

      Absolutely great hub. Thanks for lots of information. Everyone should read this and learn to take care of their heart.

    • New Day profile imageAUTHOR

      New Day 

      11 years ago from Western United States

      Thank you LdsNana-AskMormon! I am glad that you found it helpful. New Day.

    • LdsNana-AskMormon profile image

      Kathryn Skaggs 

      11 years ago from Southern California

      This is an excellent Hub, and so very informative. I loved the charts!



    • New Day profile imageAUTHOR

      New Day 

      11 years ago from Western United States

      Stephhicks68, yes diabetics need to watch sugars more than the average population, I understand. But this advice is across the board. Thanks for the comment.

      Robie2, I agree with your observation. When we started diet and lifestyle changes a few years ago, it was astounding how much fat had snuck into the foods we were eating. Just be being aware (rather than listening to the news and saying, oh yeah) is a big step forward. Thank you so much for the comment and thumbs up.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 

      11 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Very Nice, New Day, good information and well presented too. I suppose that most of us know all this-- the problem is doing it. I have found that just making one or two lifestyle changes and actually doing them is better than trying to do it all. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't:-) Thanks for this and thumbs up.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 

      11 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      As a diabetic, I completely understand the value and necessity of making diet and lifestyle changes in the name of health. However, unlike diabetics, it looks like ALL people must be aware of fat intake for good long-term health. This is an excellent article: well-laid out and easy to read. I learned a lot about saturated fats and trans fats. Thanks!

    • New Day profile imageAUTHOR

      New Day 

      11 years ago from Western United States

      Thank you Amy Jane! After Tim R died last week, and after my McDonald's hub, I really wanted to expand on the risks of heart disease, explain about the types of fat and help people understand that its not very hard to make some changes to their diet to dramatically improve health. That is one of my core values for myself and my family. (do I sound passionate, or what?)

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 

      11 years ago from Connecticut

      This is an excellent hub! Maintaining a low fat diet takes effort, but it is absolutely worth it! THe long term health benefits have been proven again and again. Thank you for creating such a thorough resource.

    • New Day profile imageAUTHOR

      New Day 

      11 years ago from Western United States

      Hi MummyAnn - thank you so much. I worked hard on this hub and it took me several days. Not only did Tim Russert's death make me sad, but I have several family members with high cholesterol that have to watch their diet. I don't want to lose my loved ones to heart disease!

    • MummyAnn profile image


      11 years ago from UK

      Brilliant Hub!! We all need to be more aware and take better care of our heart, love the cartoon!


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