Canadians need to think about food quality, not just quantity, says Winnipeg dietician Amanda Nash of the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation released a new position statement on saturated fat Thursday: If you eat healthy, natural foods, a little saturated fat is completely fine.
Here are five tips from Nash for heart-healthy eating:
1. Stop buying processed food and cook from scratch
"We know that highly processed foods tend to be calorie-dense," Nash said. They also tend to be higher in trans fats, salt and sugar.
One of the best things to do for your heart is to prepare meals at home whenever possible and cut out processed foods completely, she said.
2. Eliminate trans fats altogether
Trans fats are industrially produced and the evidence shows eating them leads to negative health effects, Nash said. Trans fats are found in foods such as shortening and hard margarine. The United States has taken steps to ban artificial trans fats; in Canada, companies are asked to reduce them on a voluntary basis.
3. Some saturated fat is ok
Saturated fat is an animal product. It's found naturally in meats, eggs and dairy. Small amounts are not only fine, Nash said — they're necessary if you want to enjoy the health benefits of those foods.
Saturated fat is known to increase LDL-cholesterol or "bad" cholesterol in the blood, she said, but natural foods containing saturated fats can also be very good for you. The key is to pay attention to portion sizes and avoid foods that are fried and highly processed, she said.
4. Eat unsaturated fats
Unsaturated fats are mainly plant-based, and can be consumed in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and cold-water fish.
"There's lots of evidence that supports the heart-health benefits of including unsaturated fat in the diet," said Nash. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats, such as plant oils, can improve your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, she said.
5. Ignore "low fat" marketing — eat whole, natural foods
Low-fat or low-sodium marketing does not mean a product is any more healthy. If it is processed it still should be avoided, said Nash.
A "healthy, balanced diet" is the best way to go, she said. That means eating foods that contain a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, a range of different proteins and whole grains.