Which Fat is Best for Heart Health?


If you are more confused than ever about dietary fats, you’re not alone. Can a high fat diet help you lose body fat? Which fat is best for heart health – butter, coconut oil or vegetable oil?

What is Cholesterol & Why is it Essential?
Cholesterol is an essential component of all cell membranes and a precursor to hormones, vitamin D and bile acids (needed for the digestion of fat). It is so important that your body regulates cholesterol balance to ensure your cells receive a continuous supply of cholesterol.

How does High LDL Contribute to Cardiovascular Disease?

Though cholesterol is critical for life, low density lipoprotein cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, is considered a risk factor for heart disease because excess LDL can lead to an increase in plaque buildup in your arteries. Think of this process like a garden hose with gunk stuck in it. The gunk interferes with water flowing through the hose. If too much debris gets in there, no water will flow through.  Likewise, plaque in your arteries will decrease the amount of blood that moves through your arteries at one time and a complete blockage could lead to a heart attack or stroke.  Now, this is a simplistic view, especially considering LDL isn’t just one particle but instead, several that contain different amounts of cholesterol. Some research suggests that smaller, more dense LDL particles are more artery clogging. However, in addition to particle size, total number of LDL particles and oxidation of LDL contribute to the disease process.

As LDL particles travel through the bloodstream, excess LDL particles can stick to artery walls (particularly walls that are damaged due to smoking, high blood pressure and other insults). Trapped LDL becomes oxidized and sets off an inflammatory cascade resulting in the development of plaque (gunk) stuck to arteries – atherosclerosis.

Coronary Artery Disease

How Can I Lower my LDL Cholesterol?

Cholesterol in food has little effect on your blood cholesterol.

Years ago we were told to stay away from shrimp, eggs and other high cholesterol foods. Yet this advice wasn’t based on sound science – cholesterol in food has little effect on your blood cholesterol levels. So there is no need to take these nutrient-rich foods out of your diet. Shrimp is loaded with protein, and is a good source of iron plus it contains just 80 calories per serving. Eggs are also packed with nutrition – the whites are an excellent source of protein and the yellow color you see in the yolk is from antioxidants – plant compounds that protect plants from disease and protect your body from the damaging effects of free radicals, compounds that are essential but can cause damage as well.

Coconut Oil, Butter and Other Solid Fats are Not the Best Options

Man-made trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) are the worst kind of fat you can eat. However, they should, finally, be making their way out of our food supply over the next few years. High levels of *saturated fat, the kind that is solid at room temperature like butter, increases HDL (the “good” cholesterol but not a target of therapy – doctors don’t focus on HDL levels because increasing HDL does not lower heart disease risk) and LDL cholesterol in the blood. In controlled diet experiments where saturated fat is replaced with polyunsaturated fat rich vegetable oils, risk of heart disease is reduced. Replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated fat, the kind found in olive oil, also lowers LDL but not to the extent that polyunsaturated fat does.

Coconut oil is popular and calorie for calorie it might be better for weight management than other fats. However, coconut oil raises our total, good and bad cholesterol levels. And therefore, it is not the best option for heart health.

Excess Carbohydrate Intake can Increase LDL

Overconsumption of carbohydrate-rich foods can also increase VLDL cholesterol (very low density lipoprotein). Foods with added sugars, in particular, are potent stimulators of VLDL production when the energy (calories) aren’t needed right away for energy or increasing glycogen stores (stored carbohydrate in your liver and muscle).

Best Fats for Your Heart

Nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and liquid oils are your bets for heart health. Oils with more polyunsaturated fat have a greater impact on LDL cholesterol than those rich in monounsaturated fat. Make sure you are choosing the right oil for the right cooking application. Many oils can’t stand high heat and they break down, damaging the structure (and function) of the oil.

Fatty Acids in Oils


Many factors contribute to high blood cholesterol levels, including genetics, overweight/obesity, inactivity, smoking, diabetes and age, making cholesterol management a multifactorial issue. Saturated fat increases LDL cholesterol but, as I’ll say over and over, we are all different and, people vary in their response to dietary saturated fat due to intrinsic differences in fat metabolism as well as other factors including obesity, insulin resistance and high triglycerides.

Replace fats that raise cholesterol with liquid oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives. Consider your overall diet as well. Eat a plant-based diet including vegetables (non-starchy veggies as well as beans, lentils and peas), fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains (oats, barley etc.). Consume fatty fish ( salmon, mackerel, herring, halibut, sardines etc.) at least two times per week. Limit your intake of foods with added sugars and refined starches as well as your alcohol consumption. 

* There are differences in specific saturated fatty acids and their effects on blood cholesterol. Therefore, some foods high in saturated fat do not raise LDL cholesterol. Also, oils have a different array of vitamins (primarily vitamin E) and plant-based compounds that may be beneficial for heart health.

Fatty acids composition of oils taken from the USDA Nutrient Database.

When You Should Eat if You Want to Lose Weight

As adults we are taught to eat when it is time to eat – first thing when we wake up before leaving for work, during our lunch hour, at dinnertime. And, if you’ve ever been on a diet you probably followed specific rules regarding  when you should eat and when you should put your fork down. And though all of these time-based schedules for eating contradict intuitive eating – eat when you are hungry (hello simplicity!) – there may be something to meal timing if your goal is weight loss…

Animal studies suggest when we eat may be just as important as what we eat. And, a recent human study examining the timing of meals and weight loss while on a Mediterranean diet + physical activity intervention provided support for this meal timing theory. Study authors found those who were described as “late lunch eaters” (before 3 pm) lost significantly less weight than “early lunch eaters” (after 3 pm) though reported calorie intake was similar between both groups. Another pattern that is important to note – those who ate lunch late also ate dinner late compared to the early lunch eaters.

Though you may want to start setting your alarm clock for mealtime, keep in mind that this study showed an association, not causation (they didn’t intervene and change meal times and then analyze the results). And therefore, it is possible that those who ate lunch early had specific lifestyle characteristics, genetics or sleep patterns that contributed to their changes in weight while on this diet and exercise intervention. Plus, they didn’t report changes in body fat (though they did take these measures) so it isn’t clear if the early eaters lost more fat or muscle or both. But, here’s how you can take this new study and additional research (plus my observations) on this topic and figure out what is best for you:

  • If you have disordered eating/an eating disorder, follow the advice of your RD regarding meal timing.
  • Shift your food intake to earlier in the day because, eating earlier may prevent bingeing or overeating later on. Clients who have a skewed eating pattern – dieting during the day and eating as little as possible – tend to overeat at night (and make less than wise choices). So, make sure you actually eat meals (at least 3 per day).
  • Eating more often seems to decrease hunger and improve appetite control.
  • Eating multiple times per day will not make you burn more calories.
  • Eat a good amount of protein at each meal to preserve muscle during weight loss (30 grams or about the size of your palm; more than this if you have little hands). The more calories you cut the more protein you need to hold on to your muscle.
  •  If you hate breakfast, skip it. But, eat a meal as soon as you are hungry (I don’t care if it isn’t “mealtime”) and eat your lunch whenever you are hungry after that.
  • Eat your meals when you are hungry (or a snack to hold you off if you are eating with others at a set time). There’s something to be said for paying attention to your body. If you just ate lunch and you are hungry an hour later, than eat. Have a little faith in your hunger cues.


J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2011; 8: 4.
Int J Obes (Lond). 2013;37(4):604-611.

Keeping the weight off: is diet the only strategy?

By Gisselle Marie Rosa

You’ve done everything right by eating sweets less often, cutting down on drinks with added sugar, and eating more fruits and vegetables. But what happens when it becomes harder to shed those last five or ten pounds? What if you just want to stay at a healthy weight? Well, get moving!

Physical activity is a fabulous way to boost metabolism (calories burned) and help you reach your health goals. Studies show exercise can help you lose more weight than dieting alone. Plus resistance exercise (weight lifting for instance) will help you maintain or even build muscle mass when dieting. This is important because we lose fat, muscle and a tiny bit of bone when dieting. Add resistance exercise to your routine and you’ll help protect muscle tissue while losing a greater portion of fat. Unfortunately, only 49.6% of Americans are meeting the Physical Activity Guidelines, which indicate that adults should do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, like brisk walking or cycling.

Getting 150 minutes of exercise a week may seem like a lot, but, when you space it out throughout the week, it is definitely doable. For instance, if you spend 30 minutes a day being active, you can reach 150 minutes in just 5 days. Also, studies show that exercising in 10 minute increments throughout the day is just as beneficial as spending the full 30 minutes exercising. This is perfect for individuals who work all day and for busy moms or dads who just can’t seem to be able to spend that much time exercising.

Exercise is also amazing because it can help you maintain your goal. It also lowers your risk for diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even depression.

So what’s the best way to start adding physical activity to your routine? Find something that you love to do! If you choose an activity you enjoy, you are more likely to stick with it. There are many ways you can be physically active without feeling stuck using a treadmill at the gym. Many gyms offer a variety of fitness classes like dance, yoga, kickboxing, and trampoline jumping. If a gym is not your scene, consider taking a brisk walk or biking outside and getting some fresh air.

Wherever your interests lie, being physically active is a great way to de-stress, achieve a healthy weight, and have fun.


Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts about Physical Activity. Version current 20 May 2014. Internet: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/exercise.htm.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need? Version current: 3 March 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical Activity and Health. Version current: 16 February 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/health/index.html

Beating the Battle of the Holiday Bulge: You Can Do It!

By: Sara Shipley, RD-to-be and student at University of Central Oklahoma

The colder weather is finally here and that signifies the upcoming holiday season. For some people, Halloween was the kickoff and for the next two months- its one themed event after the next. If you’re like me, I have several friend’s weddings sprinkled between major holidays, so this time of year is going to be packed. Packed full of opportunities to overindulge and join the countless Americans in the average holiday weight gain. It’s a vicious cycle and according to research, on average, Americans gain 1-3 pounds during the winter holidays, every year. As activity levels plummet during the colder months, most people see an increase in weight and tightness in their clothes. And then they beat themselves up in January, making empty resolutions and paying for gym memberships that go to waste by March. I’m not being cynical- I want to help you avoid that drama before it starts! Missing out on a party with all the festive temptations doesn’t have to be your strategy to maintain your healthy regimen. You should enjoy every invite, but with the mindset of moderation. It’s about the choices you make and how those choices will make you feel that next day.

Tips for staving off holiday weight gain:

Stay active: Most people get busy and distracted with end-of-year deadlines and obligations that seem more important than their workout. Or they get lazy and want to stay in, because- hey, its cold out there and I don’t want to battle the weather for my morning run! The most important step is lacing up your shoes and getting moving. Even for 30 measly minutes, any activity is worth it. Try any or all of these ideas to keep your activity level high:

  • Signup for a race in your area.  Look for a Turkey Trot around Thanksgiving or other holiday themed races around the community. You don’t have to run, so sign up with friends or family and walk. They are usually focused on raising money for children or soldiers, so you’ll be doing yourself and someone else a favor.
  • Aim for a workout 4 days a week/at least 30 minutes and stick to it. Try an indoor, DVD series if you can’t make it outdoors. P90X is widely popular, but there are also countless options you can stream from YouTube. TaraStiles Yoga is a great site for yoga practice for any level.
  • Wear a pedometer. It may seem like a hassle but it can actually turn into a fun, little game. Once you start wearing it, you might find yourself trying to rack up the steps and beat your previous day’s count.
  • Take the stairs- at first it seems annoying to attempt 10 flights, but it works the glutes and every extra step adds up.
  • Park at the back of the lot, everywhere you go (work, grocery store, the mall, the movies…). Your car is less likely to be dinged and as mentioned before, every extra step adds up.
  • Get moving on your lunch break. A 10 minute walk will clear your head and keep you from being sedentary all day. Walk to your car and back if that’s the only opportunity you have.

Choose wisely: Holiday parties are notorious for food offerings that don’t normally sit at the table. Heavy appetizers of cheese laden fried bites are likely to be at the next party and you can expect to see all the comfort foods- scalloped potatoes, stuffing, beef chili and the list goes on. If you are invited to a friend’s thankgiving feast, you should join as the plates are passed, as you do not have to skip these dishes. But you should be mindful not to over serve yourself like it’s your last meal. Survey what is offered and make a few indulgences. Balance your plate with vegetables (not creamy, fried or buttered up). Eat lighter meals during throughout the rest of the day, but don’t entirely skip. If you head to the party famished, be aware that you’re likely to over indulge and then justify it to yourself. (More tips to come regarding smart swaps for holiday dishes!)

Drink up? : Delicious party food is customarily paired with festive drinks. And some of these drinks can clock in as heavy and alcoholic, which can negate your healthy efforts. (Hello, eggnog). After just two drinks, you could be pushing your limits on more than 500 calories without even having a bite! Not only will the alcohol leave you dehydrated, your judgment will be impaired and you may think that second round of cheesecake is a better idea than it truly is.  Skip the mixed holiday drinks and opt for a glass of heart healthy red wine or a bottle of light beer, which helps you control portions. If you feel deprived without your annual eggnog, drink up- but balance it with less dessert.

The breakdown:

  • Glass of red wine= ~125 calories
  • Light beer= ~100 calories
  • Vodka Soda with splash of light cranberry=~ 150 calories
  • Eggnog (one cup) = ~330 calories
  • Chocolate Martini= ~250 calories
  • White Russian with light cream=~800 calories (not a typo)

The numbers are quiet staggering. In fact, they’re probably skewed because as we all know, the drink is only as good as the bartender. If the bartender has a heavy hand, you may be drinking more juice than you realize!

A good reason we all enjoy the holidays is spending time with family and friends. These gatherings usually include food and drinks, but that isn’t the primary focus. Preparing your self to make healthy choices will take the stress out of holiday weight management. You don’t have to feel deprived while mindfully celebrating!

Why Calorie Reduction & Exercise Doesn’t Always Lead to Weight Loss

For years people have bought into the notion that 3,500 calories added or subtracted from one’s diet means you will gain or lose one pound, respectively. It’s an easy concept to grasp and helps people feel in control of their weight. And, if you’ve followed the man who went on the Twinkie diet, this formula does seem to work, at least in the short term (meaning it’s the total calories that matter, not the type of calories). But, in reality, few aspects of nutrition are that clear-cut, especially weight control.

Why doesn’t this simple formula of subtracting 3,500 calories through a combination of food and exercise expenditure work? For one thing it doesn’t take into account the type of weight you are losing (muscle, bone, fat) and how your metabolism changes over time based on the type of weight you lose and your overall daily calorie needs (which change as your weight and body composition changes). But, a new tool, from the National Institutes of Health, uses a mathematical model to predict weight change based on changes in diet and physical activity. This new formula helps account for changes in metabolism as you lose weight. So for instance, if you start at 215 lbs and then get down to 180, you’ll have to drop your calorie intake further or exercise more to continue losing weight.

Despite the fact that this model is for reseach purposes and not an individual prescription for weight loss, it is indeed, pretty cool and hopefully will contribute to additional research on weight loss.

Take a look at this Body Weight Simulator by clicking here.

The team that developed this Body Weight Simulator found that people adapt slowly to changes in dietary intake (this is one reason many people quit and think “changing what I eat doesn’t work!” And, they also found that initially, heavy people can quickly lose weight. The neat thing about this new model is that it can show how long it will take to achieve a specific weight loss goal if one aspect of nutrition or exercise is altered (consistently altered that is).

Keep in mind that the most effective way to lose weight is an individual approach that takes into account your medical history, medications, exercise program, types of food you consume and your daily life (this is why following a specific diet book may work for your friend but not for you). And, as you make diet and lifestyle changes, remember that it may take time to see the results on the scale or in your clothes.