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February 10, 2015
Fats and Heart Health

Not all fats are created equal. Eating foods that contain saturated fats can raise your blood cholesterol, particularly your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. However, replacing those saturated fats in your diet with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats actually helps to protect your heart!

Sources of Saturated Fats:

Fatty beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin, beef fat (tallow), lard, cream, butter, cheese, and other dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat milk, and tropical oils such as palm and coconut.

Sources of Monounsaturated Fats:

Avocado, nuts, olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, and sesame oil.

Sources of Polyunsaturated Fats:

Soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, walnuts, flaxseed, and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and trout.

Even though mono- and poly-unsaturated fats are better for heart health, it’s important to remember that a little goes a long way. No matter what type, all fats contain nine calories per gram, while carbohydrates and protein contain just four calories per gram. Even though olive oil is more heart healthy than butter due to its lower saturated fat content, it is still a high-fat, high-calorie food. For example, one tablespoon of butter contains about 100 calories and 12 g of total fat, eight of which are saturated. One tablespoon of olive oil contains 120 calories and 14 g of total fat, 2 of which are saturated. Olive oil is clearly the healthier choice as it’s much lower in saturated fat, but you’ll still want to keep your portion size in check to avoid consuming too many calories.

The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 5% to 6% of calories should come from saturated fats. So if you eat 2,000 calories a day you should have no more than 11 to 13 g of saturated fat. In terms of total fat. no more than 20-35% of calories should come from fat daily, or 45 to 75 g. Your saturated fat intake is included as part of your total fat intake, not separate from it. When reading food labels, be sure to look at total fat, saturated fat, and serving size. If you’re eating double the serving size, you’re consuming double the amount of saturated fat.

So, what can you do to reduce your intake of saturated fat? Here are a couple suggestions and some recipes to try!

  1. Make a Simple Swap.

For Mexican night, replace your usual beef tacos with heart-healthy fish tacos! Fish are significantly lower in saturated fat and higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The recipe doesn’t call for cheese but does include heart- healthy fats from avocado. The blackening spice contains no sodium, unlike your typical store-bought taco seasonings.

Grilled Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa
Serves 4
380 calories, 11g fat, 2g saturated fat per serving


1. Clean and oil a grill or grill pan thoroughly. Preheat to medium-high.

2.  Make the mango salsa by combining the mango, avocado, red onion, cilantro, and the juice of one lime. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Drizzle a light coating of oil over the fish, and rub on the blackening spice. Place the fish on the grill and cook, undisturbed, for 4 minutes. Carefully flip with a spatula and cook for another 4 minutes. Remove. Before turning off the grill, warm the tortillas directly on the surface for 1 to 2 minutes.

4. Divide the fish evenly among the warm tortillas, add a bit of cabbage, and spoon the salsa on top. Serve each taco with a wedge of lime and 1/2 cup of black beans spiked with cumin.


  1. Go Meatless Once or Twice a Week.

Using plant proteins such as beans and lentils instead of meat once or twice a week will help you to cut quite a bit of saturated fat out of your diet. An added bonus: plant proteins are high in fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients in addition to being low in fat. Beans and lentils are also budget-friendly and easy to prepare. Be cautious of vegetarian recipes that call for large amounts of cheese, however, and remember you can always cut the amount in half or omit it altogether. Try these meatless recipes for dinner this week!

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili
Makes 4 servings, about 2 cups each
300 calories, 8g fat, 1 g saturated fat per serving


  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sweet potato and onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, chipotle and salt and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add water and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the sweet potato is tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
  1. Add beans, tomatoes and lime juice; increase heat to high and return to a simmer, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.


Mexican Stuffed Poblanos
Serves: 4 (serving size: 1 poblano and 1/3 cup salsa)
307 calories, 11 g fat, 4 g saturated fat per serving



  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Place poblanos on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil 5 minutes on each side or until blackened and charred. Place poblanos in a paper bag; fold to close tightly. Let stand 15 minutes; peel. Cut a slit lengthwise in each poblano; discard seeds, keeping chiles intact. Set aside.
  3. Reduce the oven temperature to 400°.
  4. Bring vegetable broth to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually stir in bulgur. Remove from heat; cover and let stand for 30 minutes.
  5. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion and garlic to pan; sauté for 5 minutes or until the onion is lightly browned. Add beans, green chiles, and cumin. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Stir in cooked bulgur.
  6. Divide bean mixture evenly among poblanos. Press poblanos gently to close. Place poblanos, seam-side up, on a foil-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Top each poblano with 3 tablespoons cheese. Bake the poblanos at 400° for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
  7. Combine tomato and remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Serve with poblanos.


Kassi Swallow is a Registered Dietitian and nutrition consultant with Harrington HealthCare System. She is passionate about healthy cooking, and believes cooking at home is one key element to an overall healthily life. Kassi has an interest in, and largely adopts, a plant-based lifestyle when it comes to eating. Kassi is married and living in Oxford, MA. She can be reached by email or at 508-909-7779.