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March-April 2012, Vol. XXVII, No. 2
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Getting enough sleep
Generic OTC drugs
Medicine cabinet 'must-haves'
How to dispose of medicines
Dealing with angina
'Sandwich generation' stress
Watch for eye diseases
Heart-healthy oils and spreads
Walk for exercise
Tips for healthy hair
Risks of raw milk
Coffee and depression
New drug for macular degeneration
FDA approves Juvisync
A 'model' hobby
Add joy to your life
New museum showcases Greek history
'Grannies on Safari'
Medicare Basics
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Your Health

How to choose heart-healthy oils and spreads

Healthy oils

Most nutrition experts agree it's not just how much fat you eat that's important, but also which kind. It's not good to eat any fat in abundance, but some rank nutritionally higher than others.

Foods high in saturated fats, including fatty meats, non-skim dairy products, and palm and coconut oils, increase the levels of cholesterol and/or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in your blood. That can lead to heart disease. So can trans fats, also called "partially hydrogenated oils," which hide primarily in stick margarine, fried foods, and commercially prepared baked goods.

In contrast, fats that have the word "unsaturated" in their names may actually lower cholesterol. These include oils such as olive, soybean, and safflower oil. Fatty fish and avocados also contain polyunsaturated and/or monounsaturated fats.

As part of a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, fats should provide between 20 and 35 percent of total daily calories. Of this, saturated fats should provide less than 10 percent of daily calories, or 20 grams or less.

Choosing cooking oils

The Nutrition Facts label, required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on most food packages, tells how many grams of total fat and saturated fat are in a serving. Use this information to comparison shop. Consider:

  • the amount of unhealthy saturated fat
  • the type of unsaturated fat

While both polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats help lower cholesterol, monounsaturated fats may be healthier for your heart. Found in abundance in olive and canola oils, these fats may lower unhealthy LDL cholesterol while raising healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

Butter versus margarine

Choosing between butter and margarine can be confusing. Researchers recently found that the process used to make margarine out of vegetable oil—called hydrogenation—actually adds trans fats. Stick margarine usually contains more trans fats than tub margarine. Despite this, margarine still has less saturated fat and provides healthy monounsaturated fats.

More tips to try

When using oils and spreads:

  • Heat cooking oil before adding food. It will sit in oil for a shorter time and absorb less of it.
  • Try a lower-fat tub margarine on toast. But beware: These are usually unsuitable for cooking and baking because they contain extra water.
  • Think flavor — not fat — when choosing an olive oil. The fat content is the same in robust extra virgin as it is in less-flavorful regular and extra light olive oils.
  • Saute with soup broth. Heat broth until it is very hot before adding food.
  • Use a lighter touch when using oils and spreads.

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