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french-friesEating right is one of the most important things you can do for the health of your body, but sometimes it’s hard to know what’s good for you and what’s not—especially when it comes to a little thing called fats. The most important thing to know here is that not all fats are bad, as many of us have been led to believe. There are, in fact, healthy fats like the Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish (along with some nuts, seeds and veggies), but on the same note there are also some not-so-healthy fats—the most notorious of which are trans fats.

Why are Trans Fats so Bad?
Trans fats are essentially unsaturated oils that have been treated with hydrogen so that the oil becomes solid and more stable at room temperature. Many margarines, shortenings, fried foods and processed foods (think baked goods, pizza dough, cookies, crackers and snack foods) are high in trans fats, and studies have shown that these unhealthy fats can wreak havoc on the body. According to the American Heart Association,

“Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.” i

Don’t Trust the Label
Did you know that foods labeled “no trans fat” can legally contain a certain amount of trans fats? It’s true. Manufacturers are allowed to round down anything less than 0.5 g of trans fat—something to keep in mind when you think you’re eating a trans fat-free food. (You could actually be consuming more of these unhealthy fats than you think.) Though new label changes may be on the horizon, to be on the safe side always check your food labels and avoid anything that contains partially hydrogenated oils.

3 Quick Tips for Eating Fats

  1. Eat more monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil) and Omega-3 fats. These unsaturated fats contribute to the fluidity of cell membranes, as well as to the regulation of inflammatory response—all health-promoting actions.
  2. Be sure to eat saturated fats in moderation. Even better, obtain your saturated fats from coconut oil, a medium-chain saturated fat considered a healthy saturated fat due to its shorter chain length and rapid metabolism.
  3. Eat fats along with veggies. A recent study found that the carotenoid nutrients (beta carotene is a carotenoid) found in salads were best absorbed when eaten in combination with monounsaturated fats as opposed to saturated or even polyunsaturated fats. If you’ve been passing on the salad dressing because you want to cut down on fat, you’re better off adding fat—opt for a vinaigrette made with olive oil.

And always remember that fat is a nutrient—not the enemy! Just be sure to choose the right fats.

i http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/FatsAndOils/Fats101/Trans-Fats_UCM_301120_Article.jsp

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4th-picnicNot only is Independence Day is a time to celebrate an important step for our great nation, but the laidback long weekend is perfect for picnics, parties and backyard barbecues with friends and family. As you’re planning the menu, here are 4 tips—plus 3 easy-to-prepare recipes—for making your 4th of July gathering as heart-healthy as it is delicious:

  1. Add a Little Surf to Your Turf. Before you fire up the grill, consider adding some healthy seafood options. Fatty fish such as salmon and herring are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids shown to support heart health, and grilled shrimp offer a light and healthy lean protein option. Get creative with herbs, spices and fresh citrus for a burst of summer flavor.
  2. Opt for a Better Burger. Sometimes only a juicy burger will do, so just be sure to select grass-fed ground beef and stick to healthy portion sizes (experts say about 3 ounces for lean meat and poultry). Before grilling, add spices or chopped onions and peppers for an extra kick, and be sure to have plenty of leafy greens on hand for topping; kale is a great choice because it’s loaded with heart-smart nutrients like fiber, potassium, vitamin K and Omega-3s.
  3. Heart-Healthier Sides Make a Difference. Instead of starchy potato and pasta salads (remember: starchy carbs break down into sugar, and sugar is bad for your heart), lighten up your sides by offering grilled veggie kebabs, lighter salads and slaws (see Jicama Beet Salad recipe below), and plenty of raw, non-starchy veggies and low-sugar fruits for easy snacking. Did you know that cherries are high in potassium, which promotes healthy blood pressure and helps reduce the risk of stroke?
  4. Go Nuts. Say goodbye to greasy chips and processed snack mixes—nuts are the way to go for heart health! Not only do they provide plenty of healthy fats and fiber, but they also contain vitamin E, beneficial amino acids, potassium and more to promote healthy cholesterol levels and help reduce the risk of coronary artery disease. Fill snack bowls with almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews and pistachios—just make sure they’re raw and not covered in sugar and salt, which can undermine their heart health benefits.

Fire up the Grill! 3 Healthful & Delicious 4th of July Recipes:

Grilled Shrimp & Veggie Kebabs
(This recipe serves 2 but is easy to double or triple)

Ingredients (kebabs):
½ lb. shrimp (approx. 20), peeled and deveined
1 large onion, quartered and cut into thick slices
1 large red bell pepper, cut into large slices
1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into large slices
10 cherry tomatoes

Ingredients (dressing):
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. fresh parsley, minced
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Directions: Soak wooden skewers in water for 10 minutes (to prevent burning during cooking). Thread shrimp and veggies onto skewers. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, parsley and black pepper. Drizzle dressing over kabobs. Grill over medium heat for 3 minutes on each side. Serve hot.

Sweet & Spicy Grilled Salmon
(This recipe serves 2 but is easy to double or triple)

Ingredients:
Two 3-oz. wild salmon fillets
1 tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup chives, finely chopped

Ingredients (wet rub):
1 tsp. soy sauce
½ tsp. honey
½ tsp. fresh ginger, grated
½ tsp. crushed red pepper
½ tsp. blackstrap molasses
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of salt

Directions: Wash salmon and pat dry. In a small bowl, combine all wet rub ingredients except black pepper. Glaze top of fish liberally with wet rub; dust with black pepper. Grill at medium-high heat until salmon just starts to release its fat and/or the flesh flakes easily (about 10 to 15 minutes for a 1-inch-thick fillet). Remove from grill and serve immediately.

Jicama Beet Salad
Serves 4

Ingredients:
½ large jicama
1 red beet
1 golden beet
1 tbsp. lime juice
½ tsp. fresh ginger, minced
Salt to taste

Directions: Peel and julienne jicama and beets; place in large bowl. Add lime juice, ginger and salt; mix well. Set aside at least 20 minutes before serving.

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