What kind of fats should I include in my diet?

Warnings to cut fat from the diet are good, but people should not go overboard and cut out fats that are healthy, the American Heart Association has said. The group repeated recommendations that people cut animal fats, such as butter, from their diets but said many vegetable oils, such as olive oil, can be good for the heart. “Previous studies have associated a Mediterranean-style diet with a lower risk of heart disease. These diets are rich in monounsaturated fats, primarily olive oil,” registered dietitian Penny Kris-Etherton, a member of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee, said in a statement. “These studies are telling us that the type of fat may be as important as how much of it is eaten.”

Saturated fat is found in meat, butter and a few plant oils such as palm oil. Among the so-called good fats, monounsaturated fat is abundant in olive and canola oil, as well as avocados, nuts and peanuts, while polyunsaturated fats are found in corn or soybean oil, nuts and seeds. Writing in the journal Circulation, Kris-Etherton noted that many people trying to cut fat from their diets substitute processed carbohydrates, such as white flour or sugar, which can alter the balance of cholesterol in the body.

There are three kinds of cholesterol — “good” or high density lipoprotein (HDL), which carries fat away from artery walls, “bad” or LDL cholesterol, which deposits fat on artery walls, and triglycerides, which are also considered “bad.” Diets high in the processed carbohydrates can lower HDL and raise triglycerides, Kris-Etherton said. The American Heart Association and other experts suggest people stay away from sweet, processed “low-fat” foods and eat whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Including good fats in such a diet can lower the risk of heart disease, Kris-Etherton said. “Some studies have found that these monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may make the platelets — clotting components in the blood — less sticky and less likely to form clots,” she said. “Monounsaturated fatty acids may help to dissolve clots if they do form.” Still, watch the calories

Some studies also suggest that diets higher in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats can help improve control of blood cholesterol in people with Type II diabetes. Such fats should not be eaten with abandon, however, because they are just as high in calories as saturated fats and are extremely fattening. But a little bit in the diet can be good, Kris-Etherton said. Monounsaturated fats include foods such as olive oil, canola oil, peanuts, and avocados. To start you on your way to a heart-healthy lifestyle, the AHA recommends that you begin replacing less heart-healthy saturated fats with monounsaturated fats. Also, unsaturated fats, in general, help make the blood-clotting substances, called platelets, less sticky and less likely to cause a clot. A blood clot traveling in the blood stream is a major cause of many heart attacks and strokes. The American Heart Association currently recommends getting no more than 30 percent of daily calories from fat.