Heart Disease: Fat or Fiction

by Dr. Kristen Bovee, BSc, ND

Many health experts claim that certain fats are bad for you. And while this can be true, we end up thinking all fat is ultimately bad. Current research has shown that the real culprits in poor heart health have to do with low nutrition status, high inflammation, stress, and consumption of refined sugar. So if fats can be good for your heart, which ones do we need to consume? Here are three of my top choices for healthy fats that offer up multiple benefits in preventing cardiovascular disease, as well as being tasty and useful in the diet.

Coconut oil – The Polynesian, Indian and Asian culture has survived on coconuts for centuries. Sri Lankans traditionally consume about 120 coconuts per year and its population has less than 4% rate of hypertension despite up to 40% being smokers. Unprocessed pure coconut oil tastes great, is high in antioxidants, reduces oxidative stress and increases good cholesterol, all of which are excellent for our cardiovascular system. The medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil supports fat metabolism and aids in weight loss. Other benefits of coconut oil include maintaining healthy skin, brain and thyroid function. Try adding a small amount to your rice, soups and as a wonderful replacement for butter. It is safe to use at higher cooking temperatures.

Olive oil - OIive oil is a staple in the Mediterranean diet, believed to be one of the most healthy diets for overall health. Extra virgin olive oil is high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat, has been researched extensively for its cardiovascular benefits by reducing oxidative stress on blood vessels. Studies show that diets high in monounsaturated fat help lower bad or LDL cholesterol and triglycerides better than low- fat and high-carb diets. Olive oil is also high in anti oxidant and anti-inflammatory polyphenols. It can also reduce blood pressure by dilating arteries, allowing for better blood flow. Other benefits for olive oil include helping in fighting cancer, aiding in weight loss, easing depression, supporting brain health, preventing diabetes, and maintaining healthy skin and hormones. This wonderfully healthy oil can be used in larger amounts than coconut oil but should never be heated to high temperatures on the stove or these benefits will be lost.

Omega oils - Author of the book “Fats that Heal Fats that Kill’, Udo Erasmus raised the awareness of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and researched the best polyunsaturated fats to consume in our diet. Omega 3 fats are found in high concentrations in fish, flax, hemp, and chia seeds. These polyunsaturated fats or (PUFA’s) have the most direct link to reducing inflammation thereby preventing heart and blood vessels from becoming damaged. Omega 3’s have also shown to lower blood pressure, regulating heart rate and lowering triglycerides. While we still need omega 6 fats in our diet, most of North Americans take in far more of this compared to omega 3 fats, causing an increase inflammation in our bodies.

While it is still important to be aware of harmful fats in our diet, there are many sources of good fats that can do good job at keeping our hearts and blood vessels healthy. Incorporating these fats in addition to doing regular exercise, managing stress and consuming a balanced diet high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals can significantly reduce your risk for heart disease. 

Dr. Kristen Bovee, BSc, NDDr. Kristen Bovee is a graduate of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. She holds a BSc. degree in Biochemistry and worked for 2 years in cancer research for a BC-based biotechnology company.

Her interest in natural medicine was nurtured by her First Nations heritage and she continues to volunteer her time in the community.

She is a member of ACAM (Academy of Complementary and Alternative Medicine) a leading organization devoted to research and training in scientific-based alternative medicine.