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Research shows that not all fats are created equal in terms of their health effects. For heart health, you should get the majority of your fat from monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat (especially the omega-3 kind), consume less saturated fat and strictly limit trans fat because it tends to raise blood cholesterol levels. In fact, manufactured trans fat is the worst fat for your heart and, yet, it is still out there in some packaged foods.

Monounsaturated Fat – Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Olive oil is one of the richest sources of monounsaturated fat, which has long been known to help improve cholesterol levels and prevent cardiovascular disease. But that’s not all. Olive oil is also rich in antioxidants and other phytonutrients that may help fight inflammation, high blood pressure and cancer.

Look for extra virgin olive oil, which, unlike other olive oils, has not undergone refinement that strips the oil of some flavor, phytonutrients and other beneficial compounds. Compare “best by” dates on oils and choose the furthest date, which suggests it’s fresher and more likely to contain higher levels of antioxidants. Olive oil can be used in low to moderate heat cooking; it’s generally stable up to 410 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s also perfect for dipping, salad dressing and sauces.

Monounsaturated Fat – Avocado

Similar to olive oil, more than 70 percent of the fats in avocado oil are monounsaturated, plus it naturally contains beneficial antioxidants, including lutein, that is important for eye health. You’ll get the best flavor, aroma and nutrition in unrefined, cold-pressed extra virgin avocado oil, which is mechanically rather than chemically extracted. Extra virgin avocado oil can take the heat a little better than olive oil, tolerating temperatures up to 475 degrees Fahrenheit, although this may vary a bit with the variety of avocado used. Avocado oil’s buttery, nutty flavor is also perfect when drizzled on steamed vegetables or grilled asparagus. Fresh avocado slices are good on sandwiches in place of mayonnaise.

Monounsaturated Fat – Tree Nuts

Most tree nuts—including macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds and pistachios—contain more heart-healthy monounsaturated fat than any other type of fat. Plus, studies suggest eating nuts regularly may help reduce the risk of major diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as boost longevity.

Try a variety of whole, raw, dry-roasted nuts, natural tree-nut butters and nut oils. Some nut oils and nut butters, such as almond, are easier to find and are less expensive than others, such as macadamia and pecan. Delicate nut oils are less heat-stable than other oils. Unrefined nut oils are best used in salad dressings and dips, drizzled over roasted vegetables or tossed with whole grain pasta and herbs.

Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fat – Oily Fish

Fish oils are rich in omega-3 fats known as EPA and DHA, which have anti-inflammatory and heart-health benefits. Research is not clear, however, on whether supplements can provide all of the benefits of eating fish regularly. Buy oily seafood that is rich in omega-3s but low in mercury, such as salmon, Arctic char, Atlantic mackerel, sardines, Pacific oysters and halibut, herring, mussels and anchovies. In general, aim for at least two 4-ounce servings of oily fish per week (which equates to about 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA daily).

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Italian Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 large head romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1 small head of radicchio—halved, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tender celery rib, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup pitted green olives, preferably Sicilian
  • 8 peperoncini
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved (1 cup)

Directions

In a large salad bowl, mash the garlic to a paste with a generous pinch of salt. Whisk in the vinegar and oregano, then whisk in the olive oil. Season with pepper. Add all of the remaining ingredients and toss well. Serve.

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Italian Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 4 ripe, fresh California or Florida (large) avocados, seeded and peeled*
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons shredded fresh basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Directions

Coarsely mash (DO NOT PUREE) avocados.
Stir in vinegar.
Fold in remaining ingredients.

Serving Suggestions:

Serve with crispy bread sticks or crostini.

*Large avocados are recommended for this recipe. A large avocado averages about 8 ounces. If using smaller size avocados, adjust the quantity accordingly.

Guacamole is best made as close to serving time as possible. For short-term storage, seal in an airtight container with a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the guacamole.

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Fettuccine with Sardines

Serve with a salad of bitter greens tossed with Italian vinaigrette and a glass of Pinot Grigio.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces fettuccine (whole wheat works well in this recipe)
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Two 4 ounce cans boneless, skinless sardines, flaked
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant and sizzling but not brown, about 20 seconds. Transfer the garlic and oil to a large serving bowl.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the pan over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs and cook, stirring, until crispy and golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in Parmesan cheese and transfer to a plate.

Whisk lemon juice, tomato paste, pepper and salt into the garlic oil in the serving bowl. Add the pasta to the bowl along with sardines and parsley. Gently stir to combine.

Sprinkled the breadcrumbs on top and serve.

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Nut-Crusted Fish with Summer Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 pounds fresh salmon or any omega 3 fatty fish, about 1/2 inch thick
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts, pecans or nuts of choice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 small red and/or orange bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1-inch-wide strips
  • 1 large zucchini, bias-sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 large yellow summer squash, bias-sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • Lemon wedges

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Rinse fish; pat dry with paper towels. Cut fish into 4 pieces; set aside.

Line a 15x10x1-inch baking pan with foil. Coat foil with cooking spray; set aside.

In a shallow dish, stir together cornmeal, nuts and salt.

In another dish, stir together flour and cayenne.

In a small bowl, stir together flour and cayenne.

In a small bowl, whisk egg and water.

Dip each piece of fish into the flour mixture, shaking off any excess. Dip fish into egg mixture, then into the nut mixture to coat. Place in the prepared pan.

In a large bowl, combine peppers, zucchini and squash. Add oil and seasoned salt; toss to coat. Arrange vegetables next to the fish, overlapping as needed to fit.

Bake, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork and vegetables are crisp-tender. Serve with lemon wedges. Makes 4 servings.

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Italian Pesto alla Trapanese

Ingredients

  • 1 cup almonds, blanched
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup parsley leaves
  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ pounds (about 4-5) red plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Grind almonds, garlic and herbs in the food processor. Add the oil, gradually. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the tomatoes, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve over whole wheat pasta, grilled meat or fish.

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