For a heart-healthy diet, you need to be aware of what kinds of fats are good and bad for you. Trans and saturated fats are what you need to avoid.

Years ago, we were told that the best way to lower cholesterol and protect the heart was to cut out fat altogether. But now we know that certain types of fats, called unsaturated fats, actually increase HDL cholesterol levels — the good cholesterol that has a protective effect on the heart. What we need less of are saturated fats and trans fats — think doughnuts, French fries, and burgers.

The Difference between HDL and LDL Cholesterol

Low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol is called “bad” cholesterol because this type of cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease. LDL cholesterol can build up inside your arteries, mixing with other substances to form a tough, rigid lining called plaque. This plaque makes the artery narrow inside, meaning that less blood can flow through to your heart, in turn putting you at increased risk for heart attacks.

A diet high in saturated and trans fats elevates the LDL cholesterol. A heart-healthy diet avoids fats that promote LDL cholesterol, but includes HDL cholesterol-boosting fats. High-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol has the opposite effect of LDL cholesterol. Instead of sticking to the artery walls, HDL cholesterol moves through the bloodstream to the liver, where it can be broken down and cleared out. For the good fats to include in your diet, aim for a diet that is higher in canola and olive oil. These types of monounsaturated fats, along with other plant-based oils, help keep your HDL cholesterol levels high.

Nix the Trans Fats and Saturated Fats

These are the two types of fat to avoid. Saturated fats come from animal sources like meat and dairy. Trans fats are partially hydrogenated fats that, like saturated fats, are really more solid at room temperature. They act more like saturated fat.” Trans fats, typically found in processed foods, increase your LDL cholesterol without offering you anything in return. Trans fats tend to be worse than saturated fat because they’re usually in foods with no nutritional value. Saturated fats are in milk or meat, so at least you get protein, iron, and calcium, Of course, to get these benefits of meat and dairy without the fat, choose the leanest cuts of beef and fat-free milk and yogurt.

Heart-Healthy Diet: Other HDL Cholesterol Boosters

Alcohol in moderation can keep your HDL elevated, but not to let yourself get carried away by that. Another booster is exercise. One study found that 120 minutes of exercise per week was enough to increase levels of HDL cholesterol, and that each additional 10 minutes increased levels further. Dark chocolate was also found to have positive effects on HDL cholesterol levels, but again, moderation is the key.

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