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The "Good" Fat (Fatty Acids) continued...

Although health organizations, such as the American Heart Association, already recommend fish as a part of a heart-healthy diet based on earlier findings of epidemiological studies, Lichtenstein says new research this year offers new proof of the heart-healthy benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

In Lichtenstein's study, women whose arteries already showed evidence of atherosclerosis who ate fish twice a week or dark fish once a week had a slower progression of their disease, as shown by X-ray images.

"Probably what happens is that when people consume more fish, they're not eating as much steak and hamburgers. So they are displacing foods high in saturated fat for one high in unsaturated fat," says Lichtenstein.

In November, the FDA also approved another new qualified health claim for olive oil based on studies that show eating about two tablespoons of olive oil a day may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Olive oil contains a type of fat known as monounsaturated fat that can lower 'bad' LDL cholesterol levels when eaten instead of saturated fats. However, olive oil contains about the same amount of total fat grams and calories as other types of fat.

Antioxidants: We Hardly Knew Ye

New research released this year also helped explain the role of antioxidants, for better and for worse.

"Some years ago, we thought that vitamin E was protective against heart disease. Now we're not so sure about that," says Melanie Polk, RD, director of nutrition education at the American Institute for Cancer Research. "We used to think that vitamin E was valuable for a whole variety of benefits, but now we're not so sure about that either."

Several studies have cast doubt on earlier health claims about vitamin E, and a study released in November showed that taking high doses of the antioxidant may actually be hazardous to your health and shorten your life span.

"There was so much excitement over vitamin E because it seemed like such an easy answer," says Lichtenstein. "Unfortunately, it wasn't upheld with studies."

But vitamin E is just one of many antioxidants that may have potentially healthy effects, and the good news about antioxidants this year is that they may be found in unexpected places, like cereal.

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