Many foods high in saturated fat can contribute to atherosclerosis, or the clogging of arteries. These include such foods as whole-fat dairy products, butter, margarine, fatty meats, poultry skins, desserts and snack foods. The trans fat found in some processed foods is a culprit as well. The American Heart Association recommends that you get less than 7 percent of your daily calories from saturated fats, that you consume as close to 0 grams of trans fat as possible, and that you get less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day.
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Meat and Eggs
High-fat meats contain saturated fat and cholesterol. Ground beef that is less than 85 percent lean is high in saturated fat and can raise low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, the “bad” cholesterol. Egg yolks and some baked goods are high in cholesterol. One large egg contains 5 grams of fat and 186 milligrams of cholesterol, which is more than half of the recommended amount of dietary cholesterol. Cholesterol in the diet can raise blood cholesterol in some people, leading to clogged arteries. However, a prospective study published in "JAMA" in April 1999 showed that consumption of up to one egg per day is not likely to increase heart disease in healthy people. Duck, as well as processed meat products such as hot dogs, sausages, bacon and bologna, are high in saturated fat, and consuming them on a regular basis may contribute to the development of heart disease.
The skin on poultry, such as chicken and turkey, contributes to artery-clogging plaque buildup due to the high fat content. For example, chicken wings are fried with the skin, creating a calorie-dense, high-fat food. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one battered, fried chicken wing contains 159 calories and 10 grams of fat. The American Heart Association recommends that you remove all skin before cooking, and that to cook lean meat, you use oils that are low in saturated fat, such as olive or canola, or cooking spray.
Whole-fat milk, yogurt and cheese are high in saturated and can contribute to plaque buildup. These high-fat dairy foods can be desirable, but low-fat alternatives may offer a similar mouthfeel with less artery-clogging fat. Butter is made from cream and is rich in saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends that you select either fat-free or low-fat milk and dairy products.
Trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated fatty acids, also contribute to the clogging of your arteries. These fats are found in processed foods, margarine, shortening, frosting and baked goods. Manufacturers are now required by the Food and Drug Administration to include the number of grams of trans fat on the nutrition facts label. However, always check the ingredients list for "hydrogenated oils," which are trans fats. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that decreasing the amount of trans fat in our food supply could prevent 10,000 to 20,000 heart attacks every year.
Snacks and Desserts
Highly processed snack foods, such as buttered popcorn, doughnuts, cakes, muffins and cookies, contain harmful fats and added sodium. These snacks are examples of refined-grain products that are low in fiber and antioxidants but high in fat. Consume processed snack foods in moderation. When possible, replace them in your diet with healthier alternatives, such as whole-grain snacks or fresh fruit.
Oils and Fried Foods
Many oils are high in unsaturated fats and are thus heart healthy, but some plant oils are high in saturated fats. Palm oil and coconut oil are nutritionally similar to solid fats, such as butter and rendered pork or beef fat. Because of the unhealthy fats they contain, you may want to limit these in your diet. When you use oil for cooking, be sure to choose ones that are high in unsaturated fats, such as olive, canola, sunflower or safflower oil.
- Circulation: Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations Revision 2006: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Egg, Whole, Cooked, Hard-Boiled
- JAMA: A Prospective Study of Egg Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease in Men and Women
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Chicken, Broilers or Fryers, Wing, Meat and Skin, Cooked, Fried, Batter
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: FDA Targets Trans Fat in Processed Foods
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Trans Fat
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: What Are “Oils”?