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2. Choose Heart-Healthy, Plant-Based Oils continued...

Vegetable oils typically mix two types of fat: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Olive oil is mostly a monounsaturated fat. Corn and soybean oils are mostly polyunsaturated. Canola oil is unusual among vegetable oils because it has omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish oil.

You may want to use a variety of plant-based oils. That's good for cooking and flavor, as well.

Olive oil, with its rich flavor, is great for salad dressings, for drizzling over pasta, or for dipping bread. Peanut oil and sesame oil also have rich flavors. But all three of these oils smoke and lose flavor at high temperatures.

Canola and sunflower oils are better for cooking because they have high smoke points. Also, canola oil has very little flavor of its own, so it won't overwhelm other ingredients.

3. Get Plenty of Omega-3 Fats

There's no debate about the need to get enough omega-3s. Found in fish oil, omega-3s protect against abnormal heart rhythms. They help keep blood vessels flexible, which lowers your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Aim for at least two servings a week of a fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, lake trout, or albacore tuna.

Walnuts, flaxseed, and canola oil also offer omega-3s, though it's a less potent type. Supplements are another option: Ask your doctor first.

4. Avoid Trans Fats

Skip artificial trans fat completely. It raises bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol. It can also boost inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.

"Fortunately, labeling requirements and bans on trans fats have dramatically limited their presence in food," says Janet de Jesus, RD, of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. But trans fats are still in some processed foods.

Also, know that if a product says it has "0" grams of trans fat per serving, it may actually have up to half a gram of trans fat per serving. That adds up. So check the ingredients list. "It's still wise to read labels and avoid foods that contain hydrogenated oils," de Jesus says.