Everyone should be eating more healthy fats. They tend to come from natural sources and can provide tremendous health benefits, such as a lower risk of heart disease.

Healthy fats can also be used to replace less healthy ingredients in snacks and meals, particularly when you make food yourself from scratch.

All too often, though, people are tempted to snack on processed foods, such as crisps and biscuits, which have little to no nutritional benefit. By eating healthier snacks containing healthier ingredients, our bodies receive key nutrients and we also stay fuller for longer.

People with diabetes have a higher risk of health problems such as cardiovascular disease, but eating healthy fats instead of unhealthy, processed food can help lower this risk.

We’ve taken a look at how some heart healthy fats can be added to four commonly eaten snacks to make them more nutritious. We’ll also guide you through how to make sure these snacks contain as little sugar as possible, and which ingredients can be substituted to make way for the healthy fats.

Sandwiches or toast
Credit: www.bonappetit.com
Credit: www.bonappetit.com

Firstly, if you are eating toast or a sandwich, make sure you opt for healthier breads that don’t raise your blood glucose levels too high.

Bread is relatively high in carbohydrate so, if you enjoy bread, it’s best to stick to smaller amounts. White bread should generally be avoided as it is heavily refined; otherwise look for bread which is lower in fat and carbs, but has higher amounts of fibre.

The advantage of having healthy fats on good quality whole grain bread is that you shouldn’t need to eat as much bread to feel full.

Some heart healthy fats which can be added to sandwiches or toast include:

  • Avocado: Avocados contain 71% monosaturated fats, which can reduce total cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. Add half an avocado to your toast, sprinkled with lime juice; or add half a slice or mashed avocado to your sandwich filling
  • Almond butter: Peanut butter is a popular spread for sandwiches, but almond butter packs more monounsaturated fats and offers many more cardiovascular benefits
  • Hummus: Replace more sugary sandwich fillings with hummus and you could experience several health benefits. A 2008 study found these include improved glucose control and lower LDL (known as the “bad”) cholesterol

Which ingredients can be substituted?:

  • Low-fat spread, or margarine, and low-fat dairy – these are all much more processed than full-fat dairy and spread products and can contain added sugars
  • Processed meats – which are high in sodium and saturated fat
  • Nutella, jam – which both contain high levels of sugar
  • White bread – high fructose corn syrup is one of the many refined ingredients in white bread

The convenience and ease of making smoothies make them a popular snack. However, take care when making fruit smoothies as this can increase sugar levels; instead, try to stick to vegetable smoothies.

One particular ingredient that can be added which has several heart benefits is ground flaxseeds. Flaxseeds have long been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol. They are also a plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to cardiovascular health.

Add one or two tables of ground flaxseeds to your smoothies for a healthy snack – ground flaxseeds are easier for your body to digest that whole flaxseeds. This should also make your smoothie more filling without increasing the carb count.

Which ingredients can be substituted?:

  • Fruit juices – which contain artificial sweeteners that make us crave sugar
  • Any overtly sweet products – such as ice cream, syrups, cream soda or whipped cream

Some breakfast cereals are among the worst offenders in regard to processed food, which has many links to poor long-term health. Some cereals are much healthier than others, with oats and porridge particularly good options for some people with diabetes. However, others can find that porridge sometimes leads to blood sugar spikes.

Here are two ways of improving your cereal so it contains tasty, heart healthy fats:

  • Walnuts: Not only are walnuts full of mono- and polyunsaturated fats, but they also contain dietary fibre, which keeps you fuller for longer. Sprinkle a few chopped, toasted walnuts onto your cereal to heighten the taste
  • Ground flaxseed: Our old friend flaxseed has a similarly tasty and healthy impact upon oatmeal

If you find porridge or oatmeal often raises your blood sugar, try including these healthy fats – they can increase satiety and enable you to eat smaller portions without feeling hungry.

Which ingredients can be substituted?:

  • Sugar or sweeteneravoid sprinkling these on your cereal
  • Any overly sweet cereals particularly ones where “chocolate” and “honey” appear in the brand name

Given the impact that fruit can have on blood glucose levels, be sure you know which types of fruit are best for your diabetes management before you start making adjustments.

We mentioned earlier on about the heart healthy benefits of almond butter, and this is one way of livening up a piece of fruit. Almond butter can also increase your satiety. Peanut and cashew butter are other types of nut butter that make a good companion for a wedge of apple or pear, but keep an eye on the sugar content.

Which ingredients can be substituted?:

  • Grapes, mangoes and pomegranatethese all have quite a high sugar content and should only be eaten sparingly
  • Dates – which contain 69g of carbohydrate: dates (66g of sugar) per 100g

If you’re interesting in learning more about healthy fats, take a look at the Low Carb Program, our 10-week structured guide to the low-carb diet.

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