Is Fat Making a Comeback? (cont.)
If you already have cardiovascular disease, extremely low-fat diets can help unclog arteries. But they are so rigorous that only people who have had a heart attack (and are therefore highly motivated) are likely to stick to them. Lowering fat isn't the only approach. In the June 1995 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, French researchers found that heart attack patients who ate diets rich in unsaturated fat -- mostly in the form of canola oil -- actually had 70% less risk of having a second heart attack than patients following a lower-fat plan like that of the American Heart Association.
If you're healthy but you want to lower your risk of developing heart disease, the best place to begin is by reducing saturated fat in your diet. When Harvard researchers looked at the eating habits of more than 80,000 women, they found that total fat intake had no impact on their risk for coronary artery disease. Only saturated fat increased the danger, according to findings published in the November 20, 1997 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Cutting down on saturated fat means going easy on butter and cheese and switching from full-fat milk to 1% or, better yet, skim milk. It also means less beef and pork and more fish, which contains mostly unsaturated fat.
If you're looking to lose weight, cutting back on total fat is still a sensible plan. But watching calories is more important. What really matters is balancing the calories you take in with the calories you burn. The easiest way to do that, over time, is to burn more calories by adding physical activities to your daily routine. And according to researchers at the Cooper Institute of Aerobic Research, exercise alone could lower your chances of suffering from a heart attack, even if you don't immediately lose weight.
The good news in this ongoing diet debate is that there's more than one way to feed a healthy heart. And that's reason enough to celebrate.
Peter Jaret is a freelance writer based in Petaluma, Calif., who has written for Health, Hippocrates, and many other national publications. He is a contributing editor for WebMD.
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