Keeping your heart healthy and avoiding excess weight gain is as simple as eating a diet heavy in produce and avoiding foods with fat, right? Not necessarily on that last part. Yes, your diet should be full of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid fats.
In fact, says Dr. Eugenia Gianos, cardiologist and assistant professor, Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at the NYU Langone Medical Center, eating some fat is essential to good health—it just has to be the right kind, such as mono- and polyunsaturated fats and omega-3s. These kinds of fats, which occur naturally in some foods, have been shown to have health-protective benefits, such as lowering bad blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease and stroke.
According to Dr. Gianos, “Although ‘low-fat’ diets have previously been recommended by practitioners, the diet with the most cardiovascular benefits is one that incorporates good fats such as those found in avocado, nuts, and olive oil.” She helps us debunk this and other common misconceptions about fat foods so you can make smart dietary choices.
Myth 1: Eating foods that contain fat will make you fat.
“Not true,” says Dr. Gianos. “Good fat in the diet is important for overall health and is likely to help with satiety (feeling full), as well.” Good sources for these beneficial fats include avocados, almonds, walnuts, plant-based oils, and olives.
But remember, she says, even with good fats, you need to watch your portions. “Fat is more dense in calories, so it should be consumed in smaller quantities with a balance of other important dietary components, such as protein, fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants contained naturally in other whole foods.”
Myth 2: Low-fat versions of your favorite snacks are better for you.
“Definitely not,” Dr. Gianos says. “Some low-fat versions include substitute ingredients that may not be natural and may not provide significant nutritional value.” Instead, opt for a small portion of a beloved full-fat treat, and limit yourself to just occasional consumption.
Myth 3: You’ll lose weight faster if you eat low-fat foods.
Again, says Dr. Gianos, “Not necessarily, if the foods do not provide a balance of nutrients.” And, she says, low-fat foods potentially contain more sugar or carbohydrates to make up for the flavor lost when fat is removed. Because low-fat foods are often unsatisfying, “they can leave you hungrier and lead you to eat more calories overall.”
Instead, you can choose a small amount of a full-fat favorite, which is more likely to satisfy you, and make sure you eat it with other nutritious foods. For instance, spread a half portion of a creamy cheese on a whole-grain cracker. Better yet, substitute that creamy cheese, which is high in saturated fat, with an equally satisfying, but good-fat choice, such as one ounce of ripe avocado or two tablespoons of almond butter.
Myth 4: Eating foods with cholesterol, such as eggs, is always bad for you.
It isn’t as cut and dried as that. “There is mixed data about foods that contain cholesterol, such as eggs and shrimp,” Dr. Gianos says. “More recent reviews of this data suggest that saturated fat, as opposed to cholesterol, may be more responsible for high blood levels of cholesterol and heart disease.” In addition, some eggs (check the carton) contain omega-3s, an essential fatty acid that may help lower cholesterol levels and support heart health.
To maintain good health, concentrate on limiting the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Smart substitutions can help you do it. For instance, replace butter and oils that are solid at room temperature (like palm and coconut oils) with olive, canola, or soybean oil, which are high in beneficial mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Myth 5: If you eat foods that contain saturated fat, you’re guaranteed to get heart disease.
There are many risk factors that contribute to heart disease, including family history of the disease, high stress levels, diabetes, smoking, and obesity, so a poor diet alone isn’t enough to guarantee that you’ll get heart disease.
However, says Dr. Gianos, “there is still significant epidemiological data suggesting that saturated fat is associated with cardiovascular disease.” In other words, do your best to limit saturated fats in your diet and, if you can, eliminate trans fats (the worst kind for you, found in partially hydrogenated oils and foods made with them, such as fried foods and some baked goods). And if you have any of the other risk factors, be sure to discuss them with your doctor.
Provided by Dr. Oz The Good Life Magazine