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Healthy Eats and Repeat

Highlighting Food, Recipes, and Ideas for a Healthy Lifestyle

February is for Fat

Posted by Caitlin Huth -

Now into February, how well are your healthy habits going? (See "New Year, New Citrus" from January 2014 for more.) If you have not made any healthy habits this year or need a new habit to add, consider fat.

With American Heart Month going on now, this is a good time to evaluate your ticker. Making smart dietary choices in two key areas can give you a healthier heart: fat and sodium intake. This post today will focus on fat.

Now far from the 1990s where low-fat foods and diets were popular, more Americans are realizing that fat can (and should) be part of a healthy diet. From providing energy and maintaining healthy cells to helping absorb certain vitamins and promoting satisfaction at meals and snacks, we need fat for healthy living.

Types of Fats

For heart (and overall) health, the type of fat is important. Unsaturated fats – which are often liquid at room temperature – are the better choice for your heart. Saturated and trans fats – which are often solid – tend to be the artery-clogging, cholesterol-raising fats we associate with symptoms of heart disease. (Trans fats are also known as "hydrogenated" fats or oils.)

Most foods with fat usually contain both unsaturated and saturated fats. But the ratio of fats can lean heavily towards one or the other. Take a look at this chart from Harvard Medical School to see these ratios in some fats and oils.

While we are used to visually seeing fats and oils – such as butter on a baked potato or oil in a pan to sauté meat – some foods with fat are not so obvious or "hidden." The only way to tell how much fat and which ratio of fat is greater would be to read the package and the food label.

  • Besides liquid oils, "hidden" unsaturated fats are also found in foods like nuts and seeds, nut butters, soybeans and soy foods, avocados, and fish (especially fatty fish). Eating more of these foods in place of foods with saturated fats will give you a good boost towards heart health.
  • Besides butter, "hidden" saturated fats are also found in foods like high-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, sour cream, cheese, etc.), pastries, cakes, and other bakery items, red meats, and snack foods (potato chips, cookies, crackers, buttered popcorn, etc.). You might know these foods have saturated fats, but when the fat is inside the food and you do not see it, it is easier to forget how much it has.

Eating Healthier with Fats

Try these tips as you make daily food choices to change the ratio of fats more towards unsaturated fat. Remember, using one type of fat in place of another will not change the calories a whole lot, but it will make the recipe more heart-healthy.

  • Use liquid oils in place of solid fats when sautéing vegetables and meat. Or use half oil and half solid fat, like 1/2 Tbsp oil and 1/2 Tbsp butter.
  • Spread nut butters or mashed avocado on breads and sandwiches instead of mayo, butter, or cream cheese.
  • Use vinaigrette dressings more often than creamy dressings on salads or as marinades.
  • Replace typical snack foods like chips or cookies with healthier fats like trail mix with dried fruit and nuts, apple slices spread with peanut butter, or bean dip and trans-fat-free crackers.

Have other tips to share? Leave a comment to let us know.

Classic Hummus (serves 6)

Beyond dip for vegetables or a snack on crackers or pita bread, try hummus as a tasty substitute for mayo on a sandwich. All the fats in this recipe are mainly unsaturated, making this hummus a heart-healthy choice. If you do not have tahini, use peanut butter for a similarly nutty taste.

1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp ground cumin
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
cold water

1. In a food processor, pulse chickpeas, oils, and tahini until slightly combined.
2. Add lemon juice, cumin, garlic, and cayenne, if desired. Process until smooth. If needed, drizzle in enough cold water while processing until you reach the desired consistency.
3. Serve immediately or refrigerate leftovers and use within 1 week.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 160 calories, 8g fat (6g unsaturated fat, 2g saturated fat), 150mg sodium, 18g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 6g protein

WEB HIGHLIGHT: For more about oils, read the "All About Oils" article from the Food and Nutrition Magazine from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

PROGRAM HIGHLIGHT: Register today for "A Healthy Heart" class with Kirby's Kitchen. This cooking class will focus on heart-healthy eating, including tasting of a meal and dessert.

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