Does fat on our heart come from the fat that we eat?

Does fat on our heart come from the fat that we eat?

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If we eat fat:

Does the fat go into heart, arteries and fat cells.


Is the fat digested, following which our body creates fat that goes into heart, arteries and fat cells.

Which one is right?

Fat is, in molecular terms, triacylglcerol. In order to be absorbed in the small intestine triacylglycerol molecules are broken down by lipases into fatty acids and monoacylglycerols. Once these have got across the enterocyte membrane they are reassembled into triacylglycerols and packed up into a special class of lipoprotein particle, a chylomicron, which enters the bloodstream via the lymphatic system.

The triacylglycerols in the chylomicrons are then able to be passed around through the system of lipoproteins (LDL, VLDL etc.) and pretty much can end up anywhere, including fat cells (adipocytes) or they can be metabolised as fuel molecules

So, because of that initial digestive step I would say that a single intact dietary fat molecule cannot end up as a body component directly, but complete metabolism of the components of the fat molecule is not necessary for these to contribute to body fat.

Fat is digested just like any other food you consume, and eventually the energy you do not expend ends up as an energy reserve in shape of fat cells.

So, the second statement is right.

Your Heart Health Lies — Busted!

The health fibs you tell yourself can impact your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Little white lies aren’t so bad when, say, your mother-in-law gives you a funky sweater for your birthday. But with your health habits, honesty really is the best policy. That’s because the small fibs you tell yourself can jeopardize your health. To keep your ticker on track, here’s a self-check. Do any of these common heart disease–related myths sound familiar?

You tell yourself: “My ‘bad’ LDL is high. But so is my ‘good’ HDL, so I don’t have to worry.”

Reality check: You’re not out of the woods just because the supposedly better cholesterol is high at the same time as the bad one. High HDL (60 or greater) doesn’t override a high LDL (160 or greater). “About a decade ago, we believed that as long as your HDL was high, you were bulletproof,” says Howard Weintraub, MD, clinical professor and director of the Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at NYU Langone Health in New York City. New genetic studies, such as one published in March 2018 in the journal Circulation, found that it’s possible to have high HDL and an increased risk of heart disease.

“HDL is supposed to function as a garbage truck,” says Dr. Weintraub, who was not involved in the study. In your bloodstream, it picks up the bad cholesterol, the LDL, and deposits it into the liver. The liver then delivers it into the bowel, where it’s excreted from your body, a process known as reverse cholestrol transport, per earlier research. But genetically, some people can have a lot of HDL on board that doesn’t function well, or conversely, low HDL that’s super high-functioning, Weintraub says.

Bottom line: High HDL isn’t a panacea. If any of your cholesterol numbers aren’t within the optimal levels recommended by the National Institutes of Health, work with your doctor to correct them.

Numbers to especially focus on, according to Weintraub: Your total cholesterol, which is calculated by adding your HDL and LDL cholesterol levels and 20 percent of the triglyceride level. Optimal is less than 200 for total cholesterol and less than 100 LDL.

You tell yourself: “Statins have a lot of side effects, so I’m not going to take them.”

Reality check: Statins can have side effects muscle aches are the most common. “Studies show muscle aches will occur in 7 to 15 percent of people who take statins,” Weintraub says. But muscle aches aren’t life-threatening, like a heart attack or stroke can be, which can result from uncontrolled high LDL cholesterol.

Through lowering LDL cholesterol, statins have been shown to prevent death, heart attacks, strokes, and the need for vascular surgery to unblock arteries. “Statins have been one of the more miraculous drugs of the last several decades,” Weintraub says.

Plus, you’ve got options. If you develop a side effect to a statin, ask your doctor about trying a different one to see if it’s easier to tolerate. Also, keep in mind that some statins are long-acting. If you take them just two to three times per week (check with your doctor first), you could still get the benefit of reducing your LDL while minimizing the possibility of muscle aches, Weintraub says.

You tell yourself: “I exercise so I can eat anything I want.”

Reality check: Working out regularly doesn’t trump a diet that’s not heart healthy — one that’s loaded with foods high in artery-clogging saturated fat, such as cheese, ice cream, fatty red meat, and butter. “If you put enough saturated fat inside of you, even if you exercise, some of it is going to find its way into your arteries,” Weintraub says.

Weintraub recommends exercising for 40 minutes four times per week and eating a heart-healthy diet.

“The very best diet is the Mediterranean diet,” Weintraub says, which features lots of fish, chicken, vegetables, beans, and olive oil, and limited red meat and alcohol. “It’s the only diet that has ever been shown to save lives by reducing heart attacks and strokes.” A study published in April 2013 in The New England Journal of Medicine, for example, found that the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by 30 percent.

You tell yourself: “I’m avoiding eggs because the cholesterol is bad for my heart.”

Reality check: Cholesterol in food doesn’t raise serum cholesterol (the cholesterol in your blood). The most recent version of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines attests to that. In fact, a study published on May 7, 2018, in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating up to 12 eggs per week didn’t increase the risk of heart disease in people who are at increased risk for it — those with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.

But one egg does contain roughly 2 grams (g) of saturated fat, which can increase LDL cholesterol. Still, “it’s our food patterns that contribute to our overall health,” says Angela Lemond, RD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “There’s not one nutrient that’s going to save or ruin your health.” In an overall balanced diet, 2 g of saturated fat isn’t much, especially considering what eggs bring to the table.

Eggs are a cheap and fast way to get protein in your breakfast and they’re high in lutein, an amino acid that has been shown to help minimize sarcopenia, age-related muscle loss. Egg yolks are also packed with vitamins and minerals that can benefit heart health, such as folate and magnesium. “It’s old advice to just eat egg whites, even if you have heart disease. You’re taking almost all of the nutrition out of the egg when you do,” Lemond says.

If you have elevated LDL cholesterol, Lemond suggests working eggs into your diet by considering your overall diet, to keep your overall saturated fat to below 7 percent of your total calories (that’s 140 calories from saturated fat per day on a 2,000 calorie daily diet). If you don’t have heart disease, as much as 10 percent of your total daily calories can come from saturated fat.

You tell yourself: “Red meat isn’t heart-healthy, so I’m never going to eat it.”

Reality check: Extra-lean red meat is heart-healthy. “There’s room in your diet for extra-lean red meat if you choose to eat it,” Lemond says. Extra-lean cuts of beef — those with the American Heart Association Heart-Check mark (check the label) — are 96 to 97 percent lean and have just 2 g or less of saturated fat per serving. Extra-lean red meat is a good source of protein and heme iron, which is readily absorbed by the body.

If you want to eat red meat, Lemond suggests choosing extra-lean cuts and keeping portion sizes to 3 to 4 ounces per serving, while keeping the big picture in mind. “If you have two eggs in in the morning that provides 4 g of saturated fat, and a 3-ounce serving of extra-lean red meat at lunch or dinner, it’s not going to be a big deal,” she says.

Fat Factor

Just what is fat up to, and how does it work? The verdict isn't in yet. But here's what the latest study found.

Fat may produce inflammatory proteins and slash levels of inflammation-fighting proteins, says the study. That can set the stage for metabolic syndrome, metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors linked to higher risk of heart disease and diabetes.


Symptoms of metabolic syndrome include excess body fat (particularly around the waist), high blood pressure, high triglycerides (blood fats), low levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol, and increased levels of blood sugar. At least three of those symptoms are required for diagnosis.

The details of the fat-inflammation connection aren't clear yet. Meanwhile, the study suggests that there's more to fat than what scales and mirrors reveal.

The small study offers a snapshot of belly fat and inflammation. Participants were 20 obese or overweight, postmenopausal women aged 50-70. Much of their excess fat was in the waist and belly.

The researchers focused on several fat and blood-derived proteins that cause or curb inflammation.

Higher belly fat accompanied lower levels of the hormone leptin, which is thought to decrease appetite. The women also had lower levels of adiponectin, which fights inflammation.

Higher levels of the inflammatory proteins were linked to increased levels of blood sugar -- a sign of insulin resistance.

On the flip side, higher levels of the anti-inflammatory proteins went along with a better ability to handle blood sugar.

The State of CV Disease: A Deeper Dive

If your doctor decides that your bad cholesterol needs to be even lower than what can be achieved with statin therapy, you might be prescribed a PCSK9 inhibitor. 13,14 This type of LDL-C lowering therapy has been around since 2015, and in 2019, PCSK9 inhibitors were FDA-approved to reduce the risk of certain CV events. 16,17

Cardiovascular (CV) disease costs lives—a lot of them. Not properly managing CV health has implications beyond your wallet.

When taking treatments without proven CV benefit (like fish oil supplements, fenofibrates, and niacin), the ultimate price tag is our health.

That cost to health increases as the untreated disease requires hospitalization and impacts our quality of life.

But there are still monetary costs involved in managing and treating any condition.
Let’s break down how much we spend in the US on CV disease per year 2 :

Indirect costs (lost productivity at work and home)
Grand total:

By 2035, that shocking price tag is expected to rise to
$1.1 trillion 2

Some numbers that aren’t so high? The amount spent on
CV disease research.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) invests just 4% of its budget on heart disease research, 1% on stroke research, and 2% on other CV disease research. 2

We’re also making fewer medical advances for CV disease compared to other disease areas, such as cancer. In 2017, nearly 7 times more drugs were developed for cancer than for CV disease. Only 1 new CV drug was approved in 2017. Considering how many lives CV disease affects, imagine the impact every new advancement could make. 18

Think cancer is the leading cause of death? Think again.

Cardiovascular (CV) disease has been the number one cause of death in the US since 1920. 2

Cancer comes in second to this silent killer. 19 Interestingly enough, CV disease still isn’t making headlines. Since the mid-1980s, the number of heart health-related campaigns has decreased. 20

A 2018 study reviewed the New York Times coverage of the top 10 causes of death.

Of those top causes, heart disease received just 2.5% of the coverage, while cancer received 13.5%. 21

Risk factors for cardiovascular (CV) disease include high cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Other factors that contribute to CV risk are: family history prior CV events smoking being overweight/obese diet and exercise. 22

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the US, responsible for nearly as many female as male deaths. Yet it's a common misconception that heart disease is more common in men. 4

The greater your risk factors for CV disease, the greater your chance of plaque buildup. 22 And as plaque builds up in your arteries (in medical speak, atherosclerosis), you’re more likely to suffer a life-threatening CV event. 23

Here’s how plaque forms in 3 stages:

Certain factors put us at risk for plaque buildup throughout the arteries. These risk factors can include, but are not limited to, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes, and high blood pressure. 23

Over time, these risk factors injure the blood vessel lining (in medical speak, endothelial cells), causing inflammation. 24

Inflammation sends out signals to start the 2nd stage: plaque growth. Plaque grows at different rates and in different arteries in the body for everyone. It’s often a slow, gradual process without symptoms you can feel. 23-25

As plaque buildup continues, the risk of suffering a CV event increases. If plaque breaks open and ruptures, then the body will try to repair itself. However, this repair process causes blockages to form. 23

When an artery becomes fully blocked, then blood flow is restricted. Blocked blood flow to the heart causes a heart attack. Blocked blood flow to the brain causes a stroke. 26,27

A heart-healthy diet can help control risk factors and curb plaque growth .

Here are some foods to consider 23 :

  • Lean meats
  • Poultry without skin
  • Seafood
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk and dairy products

It’s best to keep your diet low in sodium, added sugar, solid fats, and refined grains.

Triglycerides play an important role in heart health. But first, let’s start with understanding—what are triglycerides?

Triglycerides store unused calories to give your body energy and are the most common type of fat in the body. They come from foods that you eat such as butter, oils, and other fats. Your body can also make triglycerides from the extra calories that you eat such as carbohydrates, sugars, and alcohol. 28,29

In higher amounts they can be harmful. In fact, if your triglycerides are even moderately elevated (>150 mg/dL), you're at greater risk for heart disease or a cardiovascular event. 28 However, reducing triglycerides with medications such as fenofibrates and niacin or prescription omega-3 mixtures containing DHA has not been proven to reduce that risk when added to statins. 30,31

When your triglycerides are over 500 mg/dL, you may be at higher risk for a serious condition called pancreatitis. 32


You may not feel any symptoms of high triglycerides, so it’s important to see your doctor for routine blood work.

The guidelines for triglyceride levels are 28 :

  • Very high: 500 mg/dL and greater
  • High: 200 to 499 mg/dL
  • Borderline high: 150 to 199 mg/dL
  • Normal: less than 150 mg/dL

If your triglycerides are borderline high, you're at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Work with your doctor on a proven plan to reduce your risk . 28

What causes HIGH triglycerides?

There are many causes of high triglycerides, including 28, 33 :

  • Diet — What you eat and drink affects your triglyceride level, especially alcohol and processed carbohydrates
  • Lack of exercise — Not burning as many calories as you take in may have an impact on your triglycerides
  • Medical conditions — Health conditions, such as diabetes, change how your body processes food
  • Specific drugs — Drugs, including estrogen tablets and blood pressure medications
  • Genetics — People with a family history of high triglycerides may be more likely to develop them

Ask your doctor about FDA-approved therapies for CV risk reduction today .

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Eating Right for Your Heart

The foods you eat directly impact your cardiovascular health. Improving your diet can help you manage current health conditions, such as high cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar, and can also help prevent future health problems.

What is a heart-healthy diet?

  • High in omega-3 fats, found in many fishes, especially salmon
  • High in fruits and in green, red and orange vegetables
  • Low in saturated fats and trans fats
  • Low in sugar
  • Low in alcohol or alcohol-free
  • Calorie-balanced to support a healthy weight

What's the difference between healthy fat and unhealthy fat?

Saturated and trans fats can be especially harmful to your heart and arteries. A heart-healthy diet is low in these harmful fats but includes moderate amounts of healthy fats. Mono- and polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fats, are good for your heart.

When it comes to your weight, all fats are equally high in calories. When it comes to your heart, some fats are bad and some are good.

Why are saturated fats so bad for me?

Saturated fats are unhealthy primarily because they raise blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called "bad" cholesterol. No more than 7 percent of your calories each day should come from saturated fats. For a person eating 2,000 calories per day, that's 16 grams of saturated fat, the equivalent of less than 3 ounces of cheese.

To decrease your saturated fat intake, cut down on meat, cheese, butter and cream. Switch to more plant-based fats instead. For example, add guacamole instead of cheese to your tacos. Spread peanut butter &ndash especially natural peanut butter &ndash instead of butter on your toast. Sauté vegetables in a teaspoon of oil instead of a pat of butter.

Why are trans fats so bad for me?

Trans fats, commonly found in deep fried foods or foods made with partially hydrogenated oils, are especially harmful because they raise LDL cholesterol and also decrease the "good cholesterol," high-density lipoprotein (HDL). There is no recommended level of trans fat because any amount can be harmful.

Fortunately, nutrition facts labels on packaged foods are now required to list trans fat content. Read labels and avoid foods containing trans fats.

Solid at room temperature

Liquid at room temperature

Animal fats (saturated fats)

Meats, cream, butter, lard, cheese, chicken skin

Olive, safflower, canola, sunflower, soy, peanut oils

Partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats)

Stick margarines, shortening, fast food, processed food

Salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines, anchovies, flaxseeds, walnuts, soybean and canola oils

How much healthy fat should I have in my diet?

Research suggests that a heart-healthy diet can provide up to 35 percent of its calories from fat, as long as the fats are mostly mono- and polyunsaturated. For a diet of 2,000 calories, that's a maximum of 78 grams of fat.

Unsaturated fats mostly come from plant sources, as indicated on the table above. One exception is the increasingly famous omega-3 fat, which is found in highest concentrations in oily fish, such as salmon.

Omega-3 fat, in the form of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), is being studied to find out exactly how it benefits health. So far, evidence is strongest for omega-3 fat's ability to lower blood pressure and decrease blood levels of triglycerides. At the UCSF Cardiovascular Care and Prevention Center, we recommend eating fish frequently &ndash at least two times per week.

For non-fish eaters, a fish oil supplement may be appropriate. Up to three grams per day of combined EPA and DHA is probably safe for most people, but, as with all supplements, be sure to check with your doctor before you start taking it. We also recommend visiting the Environmental Defense Fund website, which rates the safety of many fish oil supplement brands.

  • Eat fatty fish at least twice a week. If you don't eat fish, consider adding a fish oil supplement providing up to three grams daily of combined EPA and DHA. Check with your doctor first and investigate the quality of the supplement you plan to take.
  • Also include walnuts and ground flaxseeds, which are good vegetarian sources of omega-3 fat, in your diet as often as possible.

Remember, all fats are high in calories, so if weight loss is your goal, don't go "hog wild" even with healthy foods, such as salmon and walnuts. A drizzle of oil on your salad, a few nuts on your oatmeal, or a small fillet of fatty fish topped with a spoonful of diced avocado is plenty for most people.

In addition to the dietary fat guidelines above, we recommend you limit cholesterol intake. Cholesterol is most concentrated in meats, egg yolks, organ meats, shrimp and squid, but it is present in all animal products. A reasonable serving of lean meat is the same size as the palm of your hand. If you have a high risk of heart attack or stroke, limit these cholesterol-rich foods to once a week.

How much sodium, or salt, should I have in my diet?

Cutting down on sodium is one of the best things you can do for your heart. The average American eats about 4,000 milligrams of sodium per day. That's twice the recommended amount.

People vary in sensitivity to sodium, but in general, decreasing sodium intake can help people with hypertension by decreasing their blood pressure significantly. It can also prevent or delay the high blood pressure that typically appears in people with normal blood pressure as they age.

Aim to consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Some people, including African-Americans, middle-aged and older adults, and people with high blood pressure, should aim for less than 1,500 milligrams per day. That's equivalent to a mere 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of table salt.

How can I decrease the amount of sodium in my diet?

  • Avoid the salt shaker and salty condiments like sauces, pickles, relish, capers and olives.
  • Watch out for the main sodium culprits &ndash packaged and processed foods. Eat foods labeled "low sodium," "reduced sodium," or "light in sodium." When possible, choose foods that provide 5 percent or less of the daily value of sodium per serving.
  • Canned soups, processed meats (frankfurters, sausage, pepperoni, deli turkey or ham), crackers, chips, pretzels, frozen meals and canned tomato juice are especially high in sodium. Avoid these foods and choose fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat and nonfat milk and yogurt instead.
  • Restaurant food is usually high in sodium. Eat out less and cook at home more often, seasoning foods with fresh or dried herbs, garlic, ginger, citrus juices, salt substitute (potassium chloride), pepper or vinegar instead of salt. If you must add salt, do so after the food is cooked rather than while cooking, to maximize its impact on your taste buds.

Why is sugar bad for my heart?

Sugar is a general term used to describe simple carbohydrates (mono- and disaccharides) that are either naturally occurring or added to foods during processing or at the table. Complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) are commonly referred to as starches, and these are broken down into sugar in the body during the digestive process.

Common table sugar &ndash white, granulated sugar &ndash is sucrose. It is made up of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose, the sugar in fruit.

Sugar is a threat to heart health for a few reasons. First, sugar raises blood glucose and stimulates insulin production. This is not a problem for people with normal metabolism, but is troublesome for those with pre-diabetes, diabetes or metabolic syndrome. Second, high-sugar foods are often high in calories and can lead to overeating and weight gain. Third, diets high in simple sugars can increase blood levels of triglycerides.

Is the natural sugar in fruit healthy?

A heart-healthy diet does include some carbohydrates, and even a small amount of sugar &ndash in the right form and in limited amounts.

Naturally occurring sugars are more healthful than added sugars. A heart-healthy diet includes fruit, vegetables, grains and yogurt and milk for some &ndash all of which contain naturally occurring sugars. Because these foods provide important vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates, the body's main fuel source, they should be a regular part of the diet.

Added sugars, however, are in many of the processed foods we eat. The biggest source of added sugar for Americans is soft drinks, but fruit drinks, sweetened coffee drinks, pastries, candy, jams and jellies, syrup, and many ready-to-eat cereals are also high in added sugar. Read the labels. These foods are often low in nutrients and should be included in very limited amounts or avoided in a heart-healthy diet.

The bottom line: Cut down on sweets. Avoid sugary beverages. Include healthy carbohydrates &ndash from fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and whole grains, and low- or nonfat milk and yogurt &ndash in moderate amounts, eaten throughout the day rather than all at once. Talk to a dietitian for help figuring out how much carbohydrate is best for you.

What effect does alcohol have on my heart?

Too much alcohol is not good for your heart. Excessive alcohol intake can increase fats (triglycerides) in the blood, increase blood pressure and add extra calories that lead to weight gain.

In moderation, alcohol appears to have some beneficial effect on the heart. The possible antioxidant effect of red wine has been widely publicized, but its potentially beneficial substances can be obtained from other foods, such as grapes or red grape juice.

Alcohol may have an anti-clotting effect on the blood, reducing clot formation and reducing the risk of heart attack or stroke. Aspirin may help reduce blood clotting in a similar way. The best-known beneficial effect of alcohol is an increase in HDL, the "good" cholesterol. However, regular physical activity and weight loss are other effective ways to raise HDL cholesterol.

While studies on the potential mechanisms of alcohol on cardiovascular risk need further research, right now we do not recommend adding alcohol to your diet to achieve these potential benefits. If you already drink alcohol and have no reason to avoid it, such as alcoholism or family history of alcoholism, limit it to one serving per day for women and two servings per day for men. One serving is 12 ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits or one ounce of 100-proof spirits.

How much fiber should I have in my diet?

A high-fiber diet is part of a heart-healthy lifestyle. In addition to its role in heart health, a high-fiber diet appears to reduce risk of developing diabetes, diverticular disease, constipation and colon cancer. Fiber also slows digestion, which means high-fiber foods help you feel fuller, longer &ndash which may help you eat fewer calories and control your weight.

Dietary fiber is material from plant cells that cannot be broken down by enzymes in the human digestive tract. There are two important types of fiber: water-soluble and water insoluble. Each has different properties and characteristics. Both types of fiber are helpful in maintaining good digestion and providing a sense of fullness, which helps prevent overeating and weight gain.

Soluble fiber in particular decreases blood cholesterol. Fruits, vegetables, legumes (dry beans, lentils, peas), barley, oats and oat bran are good sources of soluble fiber.

Total dietary fiber intake should be at least 25 to 30 grams a day from food, not supplements. Right now dietary fiber intakes among adults in the United States average about 15 grams a day. That's about half the recommended amount.

How can I increase the amount of fiber in my diet?

Fruits and Vegetables

  • Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Fresh fruit is slightly higher in fiber than canned. Eat the peel whenever possible &ndash it's easier than peeling or eating around it.
  • Have fresh fruit for dessert.
  • Eat whole fruits instead of drinking juices. Juices don't have fiber.
  • Add chopped, dried fruits to your cookies, muffins, pancakes or breads before baking. Dried fruits have a higher amount of fiber than the fresh version. For example, one cup of grapes has 1 gram of fiber, but one cup of raisins has 7 grams. However, one cup of raisins or any other dried fruit has more calories than the fresh fruit variety.
  • Add sliced banana, peach or other fruit to your cereal.
  • Grate carrots on salads.
  • Keep prepared carrot and celery sticks, cucumber rounds and other fresh vegetables for a quick, high-fiber snack.
  • Choose a side salad instead of fries with lunch.
  • Consider alternatives for routine meals eaten out. Choose restaurants with healthier choices such as vegetable side dishes, whole grain breads, fruits and salads. Fast food should not mean high-fat and low-fiber meals.
  • Try recipes that use more vegetables and fruit.

Legumes and Beans

  • Add kidney beans, garbanzos or other bean varieties to your salads. Each one-half cup serving is approximately 7 to 8 grams of fiber.
  • Substitute legumes for meat two to three times per week in chili and soups.
  • Experiment with international dishes, such as Indian or Middle Eastern food, that use whole grains and legumes as part of the main meal or in salads.

Grains and Cereals

  • Keep a jar of oat bran or wheat germ handy. Sprinkle over salad, soup, breakfast cereals and yogurt.
  • Use whole-wheat flour when possible in your cooking and baking.
  • Choose whole grain bread. Look on the label for breads with the highest amount of fiber per slice.
  • Choose cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.
  • Keep whole-wheat crackers for an easy snack.
  • Cook with brown rice instead of white rice. If the switch is hard to make, start by mixing them together

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.

Dietary Fat and Weight Loss

Fats are a crucial part of our diet. They are a source of energy and they help our bodies produce hormones and better absorb fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A, D, E and K, as outlined by the American Heart Association.

A gram of fat (regardless of type) has 9 calories. They're more calorically dense than protein (4 calories per gram) and carbs (also 4 calories per gram). This is one of the reasons why we pursued low-fat diets long ago.

But it's important to keep in mind that eating an excess of calories, regardless of the macronutrient source, will lead to weight gain, and be aware that fats are actually beneficial for weight loss. Here's why:

Dietary Fats Slow Down Digestion

Dietary fats naturally slow "gastric emptying," i.e., the time it takes for food to leave your stomach and continue its course through your GI tract, according to the July 2014 issue of Today's Dietitian.

We know that foods that take a while to digest leave us feeling fuller longer. So, adding a little bit of fat to your meal, like olive oil on a salad, or avocado in your smoothie, will help to slow down how quickly you digest your meal.

Furthermore, research shows adding fiber slows down the digestion of fat even further.

Dietary Fats Favorably Affect Hunger Hormones

There's a growing body of research looking at the effect different types of fat have on various hunger hormones and satiety levels.

A March 2019 study published in Appetite found that eating meals higher in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) led to a greater decrease in ghrelin (a hormone that triggers hunger) and higher CCK levels (a hormone that suppresses hunger) compared to monounsaturated fat. The diet high in PUFAs also resulted in lower hunger ratings, although there was no difference between the amount of calories consumed and the reported feelings of fullness.

How it’s made: Cholesterol production in your body

Cholesterol has a bad reputation, thanks to its well-known role in promoting heart disease. Excess cholesterol in the bloodstream is a key contributor to artery-clogging plaque, which can accumulate and set the stage for a heart attack. However, the role of cholesterol in your body is not all negative.

To fully explain cholesterol, you need to realize that it's also vital to your health and well-being. Although we measure cholesterol production in the blood, it's found in every cell in the body. The Harvard Special Health Report Managing Your Cholesterol explains cholesterol as a waxy, whitish-yellow fat and a crucial building block in cell membranes. Cholesterol also is needed to make vitamin D, hormones (including testosterone and estrogen), and fat-dissolving bile acids. In fact, cholesterol production is so important that your liver and intestines make about 80% of the cholesterol you need to stay healthy. Only about 20% comes from the foods you eat. (See illustration.)

If you eat only 200 to 300 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol a day (one egg yolk has about 200 mg), your liver will produce an additional 800 milligrams per day from raw materials such as fat, sugars, and proteins.

Since cholesterol is a fat, it can't travel alone in the bloodstream. It would end up as useless globs (imagine bacon fat floating in a pot of water). To get around this problem, the body packages cholesterol and other lipids into minuscule protein-covered particles that mix easily with blood. These tiny particles, called lipoproteins (lipid plus protein), move cholesterol and other fats throughout the body.

Cholesterol and other lipids circulate in the bloodstream in several different forms. Of these, the one that gets the most attention is low-density lipoprotein— better known as LDL, or "bad" cholesterol. But lipoproteins come in a range of shapes and sizes, and each type has its own tasks. They also morph from one form into another. These are the five main types:

  • Chylomicrons are very large particles that mainly carry triglycerides (fatty acids from your food). They are made in the digestive system and so are influenced by what you eat.
  • Very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) particles also carry triglycerides to tissues. But they are made by the liver. As the body's cells extract fatty acids from VLDLs, the particles turn into intermediate density lipoproteins, and, with further extraction, into LDL particles.
  • Intermediate-density lipoprotein (IDL) particles form as VLDLs give up their fatty acids. Some are removed rapidly by the liver, and some are changed into low-density lipoproteins.
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particles are even richer in pure cholesterol, since most of the triglycerides they carried are gone. LDL is known as "bad" cholesterol because it delivers cholesterol to tissues and is strongly associated with the buildup of artery-clogging plaque.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) particles are called "good" cholesterol because some of them remove cholesterol from circulation and from artery walls and return it to the liver for excretion.

How to Get into the Elusive “Fat-Burning Zone”

But what is that, exactly? And more importantly, how do you know if you’re in the sweet spot? Let’s break it down.

Your target heart rate is the number of times your heart should beat per minute to ensure your heart is getting exercise without being overworked. Sticking with that rate also means you’re moving at a pace that’ll promote calorie burning and help you lose weight.

“Fat-burning heart rate” is a bit of a misnomer, though.

Your body will burn fat or carbohydrates for energy during physical activity, depending on how hard you’re working. Exercising at a moderate pace, with your heart rate slightly elevated, burns more calories from fat. Crank it up to a vigorous, heart-pounding pace and your body eventually switches to burning more calories from carbs.

Staying in the fat-burning zone might sound like your best bet if you’re trying to lose weight. But the fact is, it doesn’t matter if the cals you burn through exercise come from fat or carbs. You just need to burn calories, period.

So, what heart rate should you target to ensure you’re working hard enough to reap the benefits of exercise? For weight loss and overall health, you need to exercise at a moderate pace for at least 150 minutes per week or a vigorous pace for at least 75 minutes per week.

  • To exercise at a moderate pace, aim for 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.
  • To exercise at a vigorous pace, aim for 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Figuring out your target heart rate is easy and takes just a few steps. Grab a calculator and let’s get started.

  1. Determine your maximum heart rate. This is the average max number of times your heart should beat per minute during exercise. Calculate it by subtracting your age from 220. If you’re 30, your max heart rate would be 190 beats per minute (bpm).
  2. Determine your resting heart rate. This is just how many times your heart beats per minute when you’re totally at rest, like when you first wake up. (For most people, it’s between 60 and 100 bpm.) Just take your pulse for a full minute — that’s your resting heart rate.
  3. Determine your heart rate reserve by subtracting your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate. If your max heart rate is 190 bpm and your resting heart rate is 60, your heart rate reserve is 130.
  4. To find your average target heart rate range for moderate exercise, multiply your heart rate reserve by 0.5 and 0.7 and add your resting heart rate to both numbers. If your heart rate reserve is 130 bpm, your target heart rate for moderate exercise is between 125 and 151.
  5. To find your average target heart rate range for vigorous exercise, multiply your heart rate reserve by 0.7 and 0.85 and add your resting heart rate to both numbers. If your heart rate reserve is 130 bpm, your target heart rate for moderate exercise is between 151 and 170.

To see if you’re within your target heart rate range when you’re working out, take a quick break to check your pulse for 15 seconds and multiply that number by 4. (Stopping for a full minute will slow down your heart, so you won’t get an accurate number.)

If it’s below your desired range, that means you need to bump up the intensity a little bit. If it’s above your desired range, slow down.

Do calculations differ for women and men?

Women’s and men’s hearts respond a little differently to exercise, so there are slightly different calculations to find the precise target heart rate for women versus men.

But experts say those variations are only really useful for elite athletes who are looking to get super specific. Casual exercisers can stick to using the same basic target heart rate calculation.

Don’t feel like pulling out the calculator — or want to check the math you just did? Here’s a general idea of what your target heart rate should look like for moderate or vigorous exercise, based on your age.

AgeFat-burning heart rate (in bpm) for moderate exerciseFat-burning heart rate (in bpm) for vigorous exercise
4090–126 126–153

If you’re not into crunching numbers, you’ve got other options for figuring out whether you’re moving at the right intensity.

Pay attention to how you feel

Checking in with your body is an easy — but less precise — way to see if you’re on the right track.

If you’re working out at a moderate pace, you should be breathing faster but not be out of breath. You should be able to talk but not sing, and you’ll likely start to sweat after about 10 minutes.

If you’re working out at a vigorous pace, you should be breathing fast and hard and shouldn’t be able to say more than a few words at a time. You’ll also start to sweat within a few minutes.

Use an activity tracker with a heart rate monitor

Watches and heart rate monitors that strap around your chest can both get the job done, so pick what’s most comfortable for you.

But keep in mind: Even though these devices can be high-tech, they’re not always 100 percent accurate. Take their numbers as a ballpark estimate.

Ultimately, exercising at 70 to 85 percent of your target heart rate will help you burn more calories, allowing you to reach your weight loss goal faster. Still, any type of physical activity that raises your heart rate will help you burn calories and lose fat, provided you’re also taking steps to eat healthfully.

Moderate workouts that’ll get you to 50 to 70 percent of your max target heart rate are things like:

  • brisk walking
  • biking at a leisurely pace
  • dancing
  • gardening
  • playing doubles tennis

Vigorous workouts that’ll get you to 70 to 85 percent of your max target heart rate:

Here’s How Fast Food Can Affect Your Body

When 5 p.m. rolls around and you haven’t given a single thought to what’s for dinner, the glowing sign in front of the burger joint down the street might be calling your name.

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A quick swing through the drive-thru can seem like a great option, but there’s a definite downside. In order to serve up food so quickly, cheaply and consistently, many fast food restaurants focus on process and efficiency instead of on serving quality, nutritious foods.

An occasional fast food meal isn’t anything to fret about, says dietitian Nancy Geib, RD, LDN. Sometimes, it might be your only option.

“If you do your research and you look for the best options, you can definitely still go to a fast food restaurant if that’s all you have,” she says.

But if burgers, French fries and greasy breakfast sandwiches become centerpieces of your diet, they could take a serious toll on your health. Unhealthy diets increase your chances of developing depression, cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions.

What is considered fast food?

The history of fast food dates back almost a century, but the concept — and some of America’s most well-known fast food eateries — really took off during the 1940s and 50s. Today, it’s become such a staple of culture that as many as one in three Americans eat fast food every day.

You know fast food when you see it: It’s highly processed, mass-produced food that’s prepared quickly — usually on a grill, in a fryer or in a microwave. Fast food restaurants follow very specific preparation methods to make sure you get the crispy, greasy fries you expect every time.

Why is fast food bad for you?

Different foods can affect everyone in different ways, but here are just some of the things that frequently eating fast food might do to your body:

Raise your blood pressure

Many fast food items are packed with sodium, which acts as a preservative and enhances taste. “Everything that’s processed, packaged or boxed is going to have sodium,” Geib says.

The problem is, high-sodium diets are known to increase blood pressure, which puts stress on your cardiovascular system. Over time, high blood pressure can stiffen or narrow your blood vessels, becoming a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and heart failure.

Ideally, most adults should try to keep their salt intake under 1,500 milligrams per day, according to the American Heart Association — though its current recommendations allow for up to 2,300 milligrams daily. Because sodium is so prevalent in our diets, it can add up quickly.

For example, one bacon cheeseburger alone can get you pretty close to the daily recommended 1,500 milligrams of sodium. So can a large piece of fried chicken breast with mashed potatoes and gravy. Even seemingly healthier options, like an Italian-style sub sandwich, can contribute more than 1,000 milligrams to your daily intake.

Leave you bloated

Eating meals that are high in sodium, high in fat or heavy with refined carbohydrates (such as bread, buns or breading) can all leave you feeling bloated. And, if you add a soda to your meal, the carbonation could make it worse. Bloating should only be temporary, but it could cramp your style if you’re wearing pants that are tighter in the waist or if you’re trying to get rings on or off your fingers.

Drive up your cholesterol

Food that’s fried in oil is high in fat — and that includes saturated fat. Eating too much saturated fat can drive up your LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, which puts you at risk for heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 6% of your daily calories come from saturated fat. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, that’s about 13 grams, or the amount that’s in one bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich.

Contribute to digestive problems

Bagels, muffins and anything breaded might be delicious, but they’re all processed carbohydrates that lack fiber. Eating adequate amounts of fiber (25 to 35 grams a day) helps keep things moving in your digestive tract. It lowers your risk for diverticulitis and other conditions associated with straining or constipation, such as hemorrhoids and hernias.

Dietary fiber also helps your good gut bacteria flourish and keeps you feeling full. If you rely heavily on fast food, you’ll struggle to get the recommended amount. For example, a coffee-shop blueberry muffin will give you nearly 20% of your daily carbohydrate needs but only a gram or two of fiber.

Lead to weight gain

If you go to the drive-thru and grab a value meal for dinner, chances are you’ll end up eating a bigger portion (and higher-calorie foods) than you would if you were cooking at home. If that becomes a regular thing, all those extra calories can add up to extra pounds. And when those calories are mostly from highly process carbohydrates, you might end up feeling hungry again within a few hours, which can lead to — you guessed it — even more extra calories.

Then there’s the sugar factor. Sugar is a major culprit in the obesity epidemic. It hides in a lot of foods, including drinks and sauces. Guess how much sugar is in your morning café mocha? Upwards of 25 grams. Or in that vanilla milkshake? More than 80 grams, if you make it a large. That’s nearly 20 teaspoons!

Drain your energy

A quick hit of refined carbohydrates and sugar causes a spike in your blood sugar, which prompts your body to produce a surge of insulin to quickly bring it down. This spike-and-crash cycle can leave you feeling tired and cranky.

Meanwhile, a balanced meal with protein, healthy fats and fiber-rich carbohydrates takes longer for your body to digest and absorb. This slows the release of sugar into your bloodstream, so you get sustained energy without a crash.

Affect your mood

When you eat a diet that’s high in saturated fat, sodium, sugar and refined carbs, you’re not only getting too much of those things, but you’re also missing out on a lot of other important nutrients. Fruits and vegetables — beyond the iceberg lettuce and tomato slices that come on fast food sandwiches — are rich with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that nourish your body and improve your mood.

Eating a lot of processed foods may even increase your risk for depression.

Five of the most unhealthy fast food options

  1. Pizza: The average slice of pepperoni pizza contains about 680 milligrams of sodium, 12 grams of fat (including 5 grams of saturated fat) and 300 calories. But who eats just one slice? Three slices from a large pie provide more than 2,000 mg of sodium — almost the daily limit for average Americans in just one meal.
  2. Burger and fries: A typical double cheeseburger and large fries provides about 1,200 calories and up to 1,700 milligrams of sodium. Make it a combo with a large soda, and you’ll top 1,500 calories.
  3. Cold-cut combo: Lunch meats tend to be loaded with sodium, saturated fat and carcinogenic agents called nitrates and nitrites, which are known to increase the risk of certain cancers. Three ounces of processed deli meat can pack up to 1,300 milligrams of sodium — even before you add cheese, condiments, bread and chips.
  4. Hot dog: A typical frankfurter without condiments contains more than half of your daily recommended saturated fat intake and 33% of your sodium intake. If you usually eat two hot dogs, it would be close to your day’s allotment of saturated fat and sodium.
  5. Fried chicken: Just one fried chicken breast from your favorite chicken place packs 500 or more calories, 34 grams of fat and 1,200-plus milligrams of sodium.

Making healthier fast food choices

It actually is possible to eat fast food without sabotaging your healthy diet, but it requires a little legwork.

Look for meals with lean proteins, veggies and fiber, and avoid anything supersized.

“You can make an informed choice by doing research to find out the nutritional content of a particular fast food item,” Geib says. “All of the major restaurants should have that information online or be able to hand it to you in the restaurant, if you ask.”

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