Get Plenty of Omega-3 Fats
There's no debate about the need to get enough omega-3s. Found chiefly 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 of a fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, lake trout, or albacore tuna a week. If you don't eat fish, walnuts, flaxseed, and canola oil offer omega-3s, though it's a less potent type. Supplements are another option, after checking with your doctor.
Keep an Eye Out for Trans Fats
It's been more than a decade since researchers sounded the alarm about trans fats. These solid fats are made in industrial kitchens by changing the molecular structure of vegetable oil with very high temperatures. They raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. They also increase inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. That makes them far worse for the heart and arteries than saturated fat.
According to experts at the Harvard School of Public Health, a 2% increase in calories from trans fats raises your chances of coronary heart disease by 23%.
"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. Still, trans fats lurk in some processed foods. "It's still wise to read labels and avoid foods that contain hydrogenated oils."
Put Fats in Perspective
When the low-fat craze began, Americans became obsessed with fat. It was easy to think that a healthy diet simply meant slashing fat. We know better now. Fats are an important part of a healthy diet, especially unsaturated fats. The Mediterranean diet gets 30% or more of its calories from fat. It's widely considered one of the healthiest eating patterns in the world. Much of the fat in the Mediterranean diet comes from olive and other plant-based oils, as well as from fish.
"It's a matter of perspective," says Mozaffarian. "With the focus on low-fat, we lost track of that. A good diet isn't about percentages of fatty acids but about an overall healthy eating pattern." Eat a mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats and poultry, and healthy fats for a balanced diet.