The Heart Healthy Diet
Heart disease is the number one killer disease in the world, claiming more lives than cancer, diabetes, respiratory illnesses and accidents combined, according to the American Heart Association. An estimated 17.5 million people die each year from the disease, or almost 48,000 people every day. The good news is - there is much you can do to reduce your risk.
Supporting heart health is a three-tiered job that includes a nutritious diet, daily exercise and healthy lifestyle habits, which aim to:
- Lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while keeping your “good” cholesterol, called HDL-cholesterol in the healthy range.
- Keep your blood pressure at 120/80 to avoid hypertension.
- Improve blood flow. That means keeping your circulation in tiptop condition so that blood clots or constricted arteries don’t lead to heart attack or stroke.
- Avoid inflammation in your blood vessels associated with the development of plaque that constricts blood vessels leading to the underlying cause of heart disease – atherosclerosis.
- Attain and maintain a healthy body weight. Even a few extra pounds, if packed around the middle, will increase heart-disease risk, while losing weight lowers blood cholesterol and blood pressure levels, improves blood flow and reduces inflammation. (1-6)
Listen to Mother Nature
You can slim your waistline AND protect your heart by focusing on Mother Nature’s best foods – colorful fruits and vegetables. Almost all produce is cholesterol and fat-free, low in sodium and rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. In fact, colorful fruits and vegetables – plain, frozen or juiced – are the main sources of all the antioxidants, from vitamin C and beta carotene to the 1,000s of phytonutrients that have antioxidant effects on preventing heart disease. Diets rich in produce support overall heart health.
Aim for at least two servings of colorful fruits and vegetables at every meal and at least one at every snack, for a total of no less than eight servings a day. Skip the duds, such as potatoes and head lettuce. Instead, choose the ones with the most color, since the antioxidants are in the pigment of plants, so the more color, the more antioxidants. Some of your best choices include: berries, broccoli, kale, spinach, mangos, watermelon and asparagus. (7-9)
Fishing for a Healthy Heart
Cutting back on saturated fat in meat, cheese and other fatty dairy products, and the trans fats in processed foods is a must for a healthy heart. However, there are some fats that you need more of, including the omega-3 fats in seafood. The omega-3s EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies and sardines. Your body can’t make these fats in significant amounts, so they must come from the diet. To get the optimal amount of DHA and EPA, aim for at least two servings a week of fatty fish, choose foods fortified with DHA and/or consider a supplement. (10-12)
Another healthy fat is found in olive oil, which helps to lower blood fats. But, don’t go overboard. Whether artery-clogging lard or heart-loving olive oil, all added fats and oils contain the same calories or about 100 calories in a tablespoon. Too much of any fat, even if it is good for your heart, will pack on the pounds - and that is the no. 1 risk factor for heart disease. By the way, the word “light” on an olive oil bottle does not mean it contains less calories. It only means it is lighter in taste. All olive oils have the same monounsaturated fats and calories. (13)
Everyone knows fiber is good for you. But, are you choosing the right one? There are two types of fiber. The fibers in vegetables and whole wheat are called insoluble fibers. They help keep you regular, lower colon cancer risk, and fill you up on fewer calories. It is the soluble fibers that will support heart health. For example, the soluble fiber in oats, called beta glucan, helps keep blood cholesterol levels in check and balance blood sugar levels. Aim for at least 25 grams of fiber a day, with several sources being soluble fiber. (14-16)
Practice Makes Perfect
Let’s put these diet guidelines into practice! A heart-healthy sample day’s menu would be:
- Breakfast: Cooked oatmeal in low-fat milk and topped with berries. Served with OJ.
- Lunch: A grilled chicken salad made with two cups of spinach. Complemented with a slice of 100% whole-grain bread and plain low-fat yogurt mixed with fresh fruit.
- Dinner: Salmon with steamed broccoli and a sweet potato.
- Snacks: Watermelon slices dipped in yogurt, baby carrots and hummus or an apple with peanut butter.
The foods that protect your heart are the same foods that slim your waistline. Eat well and move daily. Your heart will thank you for it! (17)
2. Feigin V, Roth G, Naghavi M, et al: Global burden of stroke and risk factors in 188 countries, during 1990-2013. Lancet Neurology 2016;June 9th.
3. Loprinzi P, Branscum A, Hanks J, et al: Healthy lifestyle characteristics and their joint association with cardiovascular disease biomarkers in US adults. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2016;91:432-442.
4. Akesson A, Larsson S, Discacciati A, et al: Low-risk diet and lifestyle habits in the primary prevention of myocardial infarction in men. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 2014;64:1299-1306.
5. Larsson S, Akesson A, Wolk A: Healthy diet and lifestyle and risk of stroke in a prospective cohort of women. Neurology 2014;October 8th.
6. Chomistek A, Chiuve S, Eliassen A, et al: Healthy lifestyle in the primordial prevention of cardiovascular disease among young women. Journal of the College of Cardiology 2015;65(1):43-51.
7. Du H, Li L, Bennett D, et al: Fresh fruit consumption and major cardiovascular disease in China. New England Journal of Medicine 2016;374:1332-1343.
8. Buil-Cosiales P, Toledo E, Salas-Salvado J, et al: Association between dietary fibre intake and fruit, vegetable, or whole grain consumption and the risk of CVD. British Journal of Nutrition 2016; June 6:1-13.
9. Miedema M, Petrone A, Shikany J, et al: The association of fruit and vegetable consumption during early adulthood with the prevalence of coronary artery disease after 20 years of follow-up: The CARDIA Study. Circulation 2015; October 26th.
10. DelGobbo L, Imamura F, Aslibekyan S, et al: Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid biomarkers and coronary heart disease. JAMA Internal Medicine 2016;June 27th.
11. Marklund M, Leander K, Vikstrom M, et al: Polyunsaturated fat intake estimated by circulating biomarkers and risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality in a population-based cohort of 60-year-old men and women. Circulation 2016;132:586-594.
12. Li Y, Hruby A, Bernstein A, et al: Saturated fats and sources of carbohydrates in relation to risk of coronary heart disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 2015; 66 (14):1538.
13. Grover S, Kaouache M, Rempel P, et al: Years of life lost and healthy life-years lost from diabetes and cardiovascular disease in overweight and obese people. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinology 2014;December 4th.
14. Gopinath B, Flood V, Kifley A, et al: Association between carbohydrate nutrition and successful aging over 10 years. Journal of Gerontology 2016;June 1st.
15. Chen G, Tong X, Xu J, et al: Whole grain intake and total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2016;104:164-172.
16. Bernstein A, Titgermeier B, Kirkpatrick K, et al: Major cereal grain fibers and psyllium in relation to cardiovascular health. Nutrients 2013;5:1471-1487.
17. American Heart Association’s diet guidelines: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/The-American-Heart-Associations-Diet-and-Lifestyle-Recommendations_UCM_305855_Article.jsp#.V4aqbJBTHiM
As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I would consider myself “Heart Smart.” I understand that having a healthy lifestyle can support the health of my heart.
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