If you are trying to make heart-healthy changes to your lifestyle and diet, it is helpful to know some basics about nutrition -- starting with the components of food.
Facts about calories:
You need enough calories to maintain your energy level, but don't want to take in more than you can burn off. This is called an energy balance.
Even when you're dieting, however, calories shouldn't be cut back so much that your energy needs aren't met. The number of calories you need depends primarily on age, gender and activity level.
Facts about dietary cholesterol:
...remember: "cholesterol-free" does not mean "fat-free"
Dietary cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in all foods of animal origin: egg yolks, meat, poultry, fish, milk and milk products.
Because our bodies make cholesterol, it is not required in our diets. However, because most people eat foods that contain cholesterol, it's important to avoid excessive amounts. The amount of cholesterol you consume can affect your blood cholesterol levels.
Facts about Fats:
All fats contain about the same number of calories -- teaspoon for teaspoon. There is no low-fat fat.
Fat is the most concentrated source of calories, supplying more than twice as many calories per gram as either carbohydrates or proteins. Most people tend to get far too much fat in their diets, which contributes to health problems such as obesity, high blood cholesterol, and heart disease. While coconut and palm oils contain no cholesterol, they're high in saturated fat and should be avoided.
Types of Fats
Fatty acids are the basic chemical units in fat. They may be saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, or trans fats. These fatty acids differ in their chemical compositions and structures, and in the way in which they affect your blood cholesterol levels. Total fat intake should be no more than 30 percent of your daily calorie intake.
Polyunsaturated fats (such as vegetable oils and margarines):
Monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil):
Trans fat is a by-product of hydrogenation, a chemical process used to change liquid unsaturated fat to a more solid fat. Structurally similar to saturated fat, trans fatty acids may have a great impact on raising total and LDL cholesterol levels.
Facts about fiber:
Fiber is the indigestible portion of food. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber, which is found in such foods as oat bran and dried beans, can lower blood cholesterol in some people.
Insoluble fiber, which is found in foods such as wheat bran, has many benefits. While this type of fiber hasn't been found to lower cholesterol, it's useful in weight control because it creates a feeling of fullness.
Facts about sodium:
Although salt is the major contributor of sodium in our diets, contrary to popular belief, sodium and salt are not the same. A teaspoon of table salt contains 2,300 milligrams of sodium.
Sodium is a mineral needed to maintain body fluids and proper nerve function. It occurs naturally in some foods, but most of the sodium in our diets comes from seasonings and ingredients we add to foods. Although sodium is essential, most of us consume more than we need. In some people, too much sodium in the diet can cause blood pressure to rise, putting us at risk for heart disease or stroke.