When it comes to heart health, you know you need to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and you need to cut back on foods high in saturated fat like red meat. And while saturated fat may be out on your heart-healthy diet, unsaturated fat is not. In fact, the American Heart Association says you can lower blood cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease by replacing your saturated fats with unsaturated fats, such as those found in foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and avocados.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fats, which means your body cannot make them and must get them from the food you eat. Salmon, tuna, mackerel and halibut are all good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, which are the omega-3 fats that offer the most health benefits. Flaxseeds, walnuts, algae and soybeans are also sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but they contain alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, which the body needs to convert to EPA and DHA. Unfortunately, many people have a difficult time converting the ALA omega-3s to EPA and DHA, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Omega-3 and Your Heart
As part of a heart-healthy diet, the American Heart Association recommends you eat two servings of omega-3-rich fish a week. Omega-3 fatty acids decrease your risk of heart disease by reducing inflammation, lowering blood lipid levels -- including cholesterol and triglycerides -- and improving blood pressure. They also help improve heart health by preventing and treating plaque buildup along artery walls, which ultimately works at preventing the clogging of your arteries.
Omega-3 and Health
Omega-3 fatty acids do more than improve heart health. These essential fatty acids are concentrated in the brain and are necessary for memory and behavior. In addition, the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids also reduce risk of cancer and arthritis.
Nutrients in Avocados
Avocados are a high-fat fruit, but they do not contain omega-3 fatty acids. Most of the fat in the avocado comes from monounsaturated fat. A one-fifth serving of the fruit contains 4.5 grams of total fat with 3 grams of that fat coming from the monounsaturated kind. Avocados also supply a number of other essential nutrients you need for good health, including fiber, potassium, vitamin E, folate and magnesium.
Avocados and Your Heart
Like omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fat, when part of a healthy diet that limits the intake of saturated fat, helps to lower blood cholesterol levels. But it's not just the fat in the avocado that helps your heart. The potassium also helps by lowering blood pressure. One serving of avocado, that's one-fifth of the fruit, contains 150 milligrams of potassium. The American Heart Association suggests you get 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day to improve heart health and blood pressure.
Avocados and Health
As a source of vitamin E, avocados help your body fight the damaging effects of free radicals, which might reduce your risk of certain types of cancer, as well as heart disease. The folate in the avocado is important for women who may become pregnant because it helps prevent birth defects.
- American Heart Association: Know Your Fats
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- California Avocado Commission: Avocado Nutrition
- American Heart Association: Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations
- American Heart Association: Potassium and High Blood Pressure
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin E
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Folate