Eating for a Healthy Heart

by Sue Taggart

 We all know we should be eating a healthier diet and watching our weight in order to fight heart disease. Excess weight makes the heart work harder, causing increased blood pressure. It also raises blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol. A modest weight loss of at least 10 pounds has been shown to decrease a person’s risk for heart disease as well as diabetes.

Sometimes, it’s easier than others, but eating an assortment of nutritious foods daily is a goal we need to accomplish.

 

Let’s begin with the basics:

Make an effort to follow these diet guidelines to get the nutrients your body needs and add variety to your diet, by focusing on a variety of healthy foods.

  • Eat at least two, 4-ounce servings of fish per week, preferably oily fish such as salmon, tuna, or mackerel.
  • Consume at least 4 servings of nuts, legumes, and seeds a week.
  • Select fiber-rich whole grains and consume at least 3 servings a day.
  • Limit sugar-sweetened beverages to no more than 450 calories (36 ounces) a week.
  • Limit processed meats to no more than 2 servings a week.
  • Limit saturated fat and trans fat to less than 7% and 1%, respectively, of total energy intake.
  • Limit your sodium intake, the more sodium you consume, the higher your blood pressure will be. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium to 1,500 milligrams per day.

 

Let’s Look a Little Deeper:

Understanding fats

We all need fats in our diet but separating the good from the bad and knowing just how much you can get away with it can be challenging. Here’s some fat facts you should know:

 

Monounsaturated Fats:

Liquid at room temperature, these plant-based fats can lower cholesterol when used in place of saturated fat in the diet.

Sources: Canola, olive, and peanut oils. Peanuts, pecans, and avocados.

 

Polyunsaturated Fats:

These plant and fish derived fats can lower cholesterol when they replace saturated fat in the diet. Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna contain omega-3 fatty acids, a group of polyunsaturated fats that keep the heart healthy, even when consumed in small amounts.

Sources: Vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, soybean, corn, and sesame oils; sunflower seeds; soybeans; fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon; and most nuts.

 

Saturated Fats:

Concentrated mostly in animal products, these solid fats raise harmful LDL cholesterol and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Sources: Beef, lamb, pork, bacon, cheese, full-fat yogurt, butter, and whole milk. Snack chips and bakery items made with tropical oils such as coconut, palm, and palm kernel also contain these fats, which are solid at room temperature. Of course, these are the fats we tend to gravitate to, so the key with saturated fats is to choose wisely and use them in moderation.

 

Trans Fats:

Produced when liquid oils are processed into solid shortenings, trans fats (also known as partially hydrogenated oils) raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower HDL ( “good”) cholesterol.

Sources: Foods can harbor trans fats if they’re made with partially hydrogenated oils. Avoid them as much as you can.

 

Put whole grains on your plate

Research shows that eating just 2 1/2 servings of whole grains per day is enough to lower your risk for heart disease. (One serving equals a slice of 100% whole-wheat bread or 1/3 cup cooked brown rice.) Ancient grains can be especially beneficial as has been demonstrated by some recently published research. KAMUT® Khorasan Wheat exhibited beneficial effects in reducing several cardiovascular risk markers, the results of which can be found in this link.

 

If you strive to eat mostly healthy and nutritious foods most of the time, then it’s fine to have a little splurge on some dark chocolate and your favorite treat every now and again – even a glass or two of red wine! Life is too short not to enjoy it.

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