If you are trying to make heart-healthy changes to your lifestyle and diet, it's helpful to know some basics about nutrition, starting with the components of food.
Types of fats
Fatty acids are the basic chemicals in fat. They may be saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, or trans fats. These fatty acids differ in their chemical makeup and structure, and in the way in which they affect your blood cholesterol levels.
Is used by the liver to manufacture cholesterol
Can raise blood cholesterol levels, particularly the LDL ("bad") cholesterol level (this raises your risk for heart attack and stroke)
Should make up no more than 10% of your daily calories
Saturated fat can be found in meats, whole dairy products, butter, cocoa butter, coconut, and palm oils.
Examples of polyunsaturated fats include safflower, sunflower, and corn oils, and soybean oils.
Examples of monounsaturated fats include olive and canola oils.
Trans fat is found naturally in some animal foods. Trans fats can also be made by food manufacturers. These are byproducts of hydrogenation. This is a chemical process used to change liquid unsaturated fat to a more solid fat. Trans fats will be found in an ingredients list as a partially hydrogenated oil. Trans fatty acids are similar in structure to saturated fat. They may have a great impact on raising total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. You should avoid trans fats as much as possible.
The FDA has banned manufacturers from adding artificial trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, to food.
Examples of foods that had trans fats include stick margarine and fats found in commercially prepared cakes, cookies, and snack foods. Many manufacturers have changed their formulas to no longer contain trans fat. Read the label to make sure the food has no partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list.
Facts about fiber
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
Fiber slows down how quickly foods are digested, making you feel full longer after eating.
Your body doesn't digest most of the fiber you eat. Fiber can be soluble or insoluble.
Soluble fiber is found in foods like oat bran and dried beans. It can lower blood cholesterol in some people. It prevents some fats and cholesterol from being digested and absorbed.
Insoluble fiber is found in foods like wheat bran. It increases bulk in the digestive tract, improving frequency of bowel movements. It does not help lower cholesterol.