The 5% Swap for Heart Health

by | Well Balanced Wisdom

If you are a regular reader or current client you know, fat is our friend. Although a little can go a long way, it absolutely deserves a spot on your plate. You also know that we want you to embrace more natural foods and limit processed foods. Keeping those things in mind, how do we include fats that will protect our heart health? Let’s dive in and find out.

What does the research say about fat and heart health?

Randomized clinical trials have shown that replacing 5% of your calories from saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat (omega-6 fatty acids) reduces total and LDL cholesterol. This swap is associated with a 9% lower risk of CHD events and a 13% lower risk of CHD deaths. That equates to just one simple swap a day!

Swap it, don’t eliminate it

It’s important to note that it’s not enough to just decrease saturated fat in our diets because when saturated fat is replaced by simple carbohydrates, like sugar or white rice, no benefit is seen. Switching from a regular cookie to a fat-free cookie is not heart healthy. Nor is swapping out steak for white pasta.

Okay, so what DOES this 5% swap look like IRL?

If you eat somewhere between 1600 to 2000 calories per day, you’ll want to replace 9 to 11 grams of saturated fat with 9 to 11 grams of omega-6 fatty acids to reduce your cholesterol levels and lower your risk. One simple swap a day can take care of this. Think about some processed foods or sources of saturated fat in your day-to-day diet that don’t provide a lot of nutrients and health benefits. Replace one of those items each day with an ounce of nuts or seeds as they are the best natural sources of omega-6 fatty acids in whole food form. Another idea is swap out buttered toast for avocado toast.

Swap Out (food – amt of sat fat) Swap In (food – amt of omega 6)
1 Bojangles biscuit – 8g of saturated fat 2 TBS peanut butter – 4.4 g omega-6 fatty acids
1 doughnut from Dunkin Donut – 6-11g 1-ounce pecans – 6 g
1 cup of ice cream – 10g 1-ounce sunflower seeds – 10 g
1 Honeybun – 14g 1-ounce pumpkin seeds (pepitas) – 5.8 g
1 TBS butter – 7.2 g 1 cup sliced avocado – 2.4 g

Where NOT to get your omega-6 fatty acids from:
Omega-6 fatty acids are very prevalent in processed and junk foods like vegetable oils, margarine, chips, and cookies, but of course, I can’t confidently recommend those for heart health. (Occasionally enjoying your favorite things is perfectly acceptable in our book, but right now we are talking about the healthiest thing we can do for our heart every day.)

Note: Omega-3 fatty acids are still important, too.

You probably know that omega-3 fatty acids are heart healthy. The beautiful thing about natural food is that it usually contains a package of nutrients. Plant-based foods include both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Both are important in lowering your risk of heart disease and contrary to what you might hear, research indicates that increasing both types is helpful.

Food for thought:

Often times meat, eggs, and dairy can get blasted in the media because of their saturated fat content. These foods deliver many nutritional benefits and aren’t necessarily the first things that should go in your diet if you want to be heart healthy. Moderate portions (think of them like a side dish on your plate) are part of a Well Balanced eating plan. We encourage you to look first at the processed foods in your diet. If there is room for improvement, replace a processed food with a serving of natural plant-based fat.

What will you swap for heart health?

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