Decoding the Heart Healthy Diet

Dr. Dave Montgomery has officially declared “healthy” the new trend for 2012. But it isn’t always easy to adopt healthy living habits. Part of the reason is because healthy advice from professionals often sounds like computer code.  The “Decoding Healthy” series is intended to translate encoded expert jargon and increase the bandwidth of your practical health knowledge

Researchers have known for a long time that low-fat, high-fiber diets are not only the best diets for your heart but can help you spend less time with doctors and more time pursuing your life’s passions.  Heart-healthy eating is a great way to make progress with weight loss, diabetes and other medical conditions.  But healthy eating advice can sometimes seem like encrypted data, even to me—a board-certified physician. Instead of throwing your hands up when you feel confused, take the time to develop a working knowledge of these tools so that you can make the right choices for your health.

Understanding Saturated Fat (and Why You Should Limit Your Intake)

  1. The difference between “saturated” and “unsaturated” fat comes via the chemical structure of the fat. 
  2. The more saturated the fat, the more it raises bad cholesterol (also called LDL, the plaque-building kind of cholesterol).  Obviously, not a good thing. 
  3. Saturated fat is found mostly in animal-based foods, like meat or dairy products.
  4. You can often tell a saturated fat because it is solid at room temperature (animal fat, shortening, stick margarine).  

Keys to Reducing Saturated Fat:

  1. Limit the amount of red meat you consume (try twice a month, if you’re a meat eater.)
  2. Trim the fat from meat & remove skin from chicken before cooking—the skin is where most of the cholesterol lives and where pesticides and herbicides would nestle if the meat has been exposed.
  3. Use oils that are liquid at room temperature (olive, canola or soybean oils) for food preparation. 
  4. Do not use hydrogenated margarines or shortening, ever!  Hydrogenated is code for trans fat—the worst kind of fa

Foods High in Saturated Fat You’ll Hate to Scrap from Your Diet

Quick Reference: when you see these foods, chances are that they’re loaded with ‘bad’ fat, so step away!

  1. Macaroni and cheese 
  2. Bacon
  3. Ice cream
  4. Fried fast foods (this often includes burgers, not just fries)
  5. Cookies/muffins (check the label!)
  6. Butter

Dave Montgomery, M.D., Ph.D., is a board-certified physician and EBONY's Special Contributing Health Editor. You can find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter: @DMontgomeryMD. Send your health questions to drdave@ebony.com.