23 May 2022

Waterford fitness and nutrition: Good and bad fats for cardiovascular health

Are you still confused about which fats help keep your heart healthy?

You are not alone! For many years we have been told to avoid fats, especially saturated animal fats because these fats cause heart disease. Instead of saturated fats, we were told to use vegetable oils and margarine. 

Let’s explore the truth about good fats and bad fats for cardiovascular health.

What fats should you avoid for heart health?

Bad fats are highly processed and include canola or rapeseed oil, soybean oil, corn oil and cottonseed oil. These oils are made using intensive mechanical and chemical processes to get the oil from the seeds. First the seed is crushed and heated, before a hexane solvent is added to get more oil out. Then the oil needs to be degummed, neutralized, bleached and deodorized.  Refined oils remove all the natural nutrients, and they oxidize easily. This causes your cells and blood vessels to get stiff and damaged. 

Often these bad fats are also hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated like margarine or shortening. This means they contain trans-fats, increasing your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowering your good cholesterol (HDL). As little as 2% consumption of trans-fats doubles your risk of heart disease.

Trans-fat consumption causes inflammation in the blood vessels. Inflammation can be the root cause of coronary artery disease. Be on the lookout as trans-fats are still everywhere, even if it says zero trans-fats on the label. Most commonly they are found in crackers, cake mixes, baked goods, packaged foods, chips, fast food, non-dairy creamers, pastries and bar food.

What are good fats for heart health?

Good fats are those that exist in nature and are not highly processed. These include olive oil, lard, butter, full-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocado, olives, as well as the fats in eggs and cold water fatty fish. Good fats are very stable. 

We need animal fats for health and happiness, and one of the most important reasons we should be eating these natural fats is that they provide important vitamins like vitamin K, which helps protect our arteries and heart. Another good reason to be eating healthy fats is that you absorb more nutrients from your food when you add a good fat. The fat helps carry nutrients from your vegetables into your cells.

How can you tell if it is a good fat?

When you are at the shop look for dark bottles and words like unrefined, extra virgin, expeller pressed, cold pressed, and first pressed. I recommend eating fat every time you eat. How much? Examples include 16 almonds, half an avocado, two teaspoons butter or olive oil, 10 walnuts, six olives, two tablespoons of full fat sour cream or cream cheese, or one to two tablespoons of nut butter. But remember, it also depends on your body composition as everyone is different and will require different amounts of fats.

I go into issues like this in more detail on my FacebookInstagram, Snapchat (Fitness-ppt), Twitter and website.


Defence Forces sniper instructor Peter O’Halloran won Ireland’s Best Fitness Nutritionist/Dietician award at the  Irish Fitness Industry Awards 2018 and Best Use of Social Media by a Gym/Personal Trainer at the Social Media Awards 2018.

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