February is "Heart Health Month" and the naturopathic experts at the National University of Health Sciences in Lombard say one of the best ways to protect your heart is to get familiar with fats!
"Most people understand that high cholesterol levels in the blood can create heart health risks," says Fraser Smith, ND, who is the assistant dean of naturopathic medicine at NUHS. "But there's more to heart health than limiting saturated fat in your diet."
"What can be even worse are damaged fats, such as the 'polyunsaturated fats' when they are rancid or oxidized from high heat cooking," says Smith. "People are often told to consume polyunsaturated fats for heart health, but aren't told that these fats can have adverse long-term effects when they are damaged by cooking or by artificial processes. Even plain old vegetable oil, if reused over and over in a deep fryer can build up damaged fats that can jeopardize your health."
An extreme example of a bad polyunsaturated fats are "trans fats" which have hydrogen added to them to make them more useful for baking or more stable for frying. Conventional shortening, and certain margarines are produts that contain high levels of trans fats.
"Bad fats, like trans fats and damaged polyunsaturated fats, can raise cholesterol too. Also, they easily form the substances that literally injure the inside lining of our arteries, including those precious coronary arteries that bring blood to the heart," says Smith. "The body's response to this injury is to coat the inflamed artery with more cholesterol and hardening factors such as calcium. Over the years, this leads to a 'plaque' that can eventually clog up the artery."
Good fats that are heart-healthy include olive oil or non-hydrogenated virgin coconut oil. Look for cold-pressed, high quality oils for cooking, and store them in a cool dark place to prevent rancidity.
"Also, never reuse vegetable oil after cooking with it at high temperatures," says Smith. "And look at nutrition labels for products that have zero trans fats."
If you'd like to explore more ways to protect your heart health, you can call 1-630-629-9664 to find the NUHS Whole Health Center nearest you and schedule an appointment with a primary care physician (DC or MD) who is either trained in or works with experts in naturopathic medicine.