Rules For A Healthy Heart

The dangers of eating high-fat meals was the focus of medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay's report Wednesday morning on The Early Show. New research shows that eating saturated fats hurts the body's ability to protect itself against heart disease.

So what does the latest study tell us about the dangers of saturated fat? According to Senay, the dietary advice we all know by now is to avoid foods high in saturated fat such as red meat, whole milk and butter. Not only do they lead to weight gain, but they contain a lot of cholesterol.

A new study in the latest Journal of the American College of Cardiology looked at 14 healthy volunteers who ate two meals one month apart, one high in polyunsaturated fat and the other high in saturated fat.

The study showed that just one meal high in saturated fat is enough to interfere with the body's ability to protect arteries from the buildup of plaque, which contributes to the hardening of the arteries associated with heart disease.

The key to good health is a good cholesterol ratio, or maintaining enough HDL or "good" cholesterol while you try to get LDL or "bad" cholesterol down. The good cholesterol helps to remove bad cholesterol from blood vessels. The high-fat meal reduced the ability of HDL or "good" cholesterol to prevent arteries from clogging, and hampered the ability of arteries to expand and transport blood.

The good news is that the study also found a meal high in polyunsaturated fat, which is a healthier form of fat, helped the HDL or "good" cholesterol do its job and keep the arteries clear. So this is more evidence that choosing the right foods is an important strategy, in addition to avoiding the wrong foods.

Examples of dietary ingredients found to lower bad cholesterol or raise good cholesterol include soy protein, the "good" unsaturated fats found in olive oil, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, and fish containing omega-three fatty acids.

Experts say the best idea is to include a wide range of these beneficial foods in your diet. The Mediterranean diet that includes a lot of veggies, fruits, olive oil and whole grains has been shown to improve cholesterol levels overall. Eating more healthy foods may fill you up enough to avoid the temptation to eat unhealthier foods.

An overall healthy lifestyle in conjunction with diet is important in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Maintaining an ideal weight and regular exercise are known to boost good cholesterol as well as lower bad cholesterol.