Heart Health

Updated 02 February 2015

Good fats for a healthy heart

This article is a summary of the different types of fats and the role they play in preventing and managing cardiovascular health.


Fats form a very important part of a heart healthy diet.  But these days we are confronted with many conflicting recommendations about what types of fats are healthy, especially for cardiovascular health.

The aim of this article is to summarise the types of fats and the role they play in preventing and managing cardiovascular health.

Fats – the good the bad and the ugly

Research indicates that low fat diets should be replaced with modified fat diets. This means that fats in the diet should be increased, but the focus should be on increasing the good fats like Mono-unsaturated fats (MUFA) and Omega-3 Poly-unsaturated fats (PUFA). Saturated fats and trans-fats should form the smallest part of the fat intake of the diet.

Carbohydrates should be slightly decreased in the diet but not eliminated. Carbohydrates include starches and sugars but also fruit, yellow vegetables and milk products (excluding cheese).

Lean protein should also be increased in the diet. Good lean proteins are fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines. Ostrich and venison are very low in fat and high in iron, thus good red meat substitutes. Skinless chicken breast and extra lean pork should also form part of the diet.  

Saturated fats are mainly animal fats including the visible and invisible fats from meat products, processed meat products, the skin of the chicken, full cream milk products, cream and butter, hard cheeses/yellow cheeses, prawns, coconut butter and oil and egg yolk.

Trans fatty acids also known as trans fats or hydrogenated fats are “man-made fats” and processed fats.  Trans fats include hard block margarine in the paper wrapping, take away foods (unless indicated in a company statement that it is trans-fat free, e.g. Woolworths and Nando’s), commercially baked confectionary products such as scones, muffins, cakes, croissants etc. Numerous medical trials indicate that saturated fats are associated with increased cholesterol levels, hypertension, fatty liver disease and certain cancers.  

MUFA fats, on the other hand, decrease cholesterol and blood pressure and are good for eye health, the function of the brain, and they protect DNA against damage, thereby slowing the ageing process.

PUFA omega-3 fats assist in thinning the blood, thereby preventing blood clotting, and are also strong anti-inflammatory fats, preventing and treating inflammation in the joints and other parts of the body.

Practical tips for a heart healthy diet

• Remove all visible fat from meat cuts. A lamb chop with all visible fat removed has less than 5% fat whereas a chop eaten with the visible fat has more than 20% fat per 100g. Include more lean cuts like ostrich, venison, skinless chicken cuts and extra lean pork fillets.

• Choose low fat processed meats – read labels for less than 5g per 100g.

• Do not eat cheese more than once per day and the portion size should not exceed the size of a matchbox (30g). Tip: Grate the cheese to increase the volume.

• Use plain Bulgarian yoghurt in recipes rather than cream.

• Use canola oil in baking rather than sunflower oil.

• Do not deep fry foods – rather pan fry with olive oil. Do not heat the oil to smoking point. Do not re-use heated oil.

• Add nuts to a fruit for a snack.  

• Sprinkle linseeds or flaxseeds over a salad.

• Use peanut butter/almond butter as a spread rather than a spread high in salt (Marmite/Oxo) or high in sugar (syrup or jam).

• Add olives and/or avocado to a salad.

• Include salmon/sardines/mackerel/trout at least 2 to 3 times per week in your eating plan or consider a good Omega 3/6 supplement. The ratio of Omega 3 should be higher than Omega 6 in the supplement.

• One fat portion equals more or less: 40g avocado, or 10 olives, or 10 nuts (10g), or 2 teaspoons of peanut/almond butter/2 tsp olive oil/2 tsp canola oil margarine.  Women should aim for at least 5 good fat portions per day and men for at least 10 good fat portions.


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