Heart Health: Eat This, Not That!

There’s no denying that our diets play a significant role in our heart health, even though many of us don’t want to hold ourselves accountable. That being said, there is an understandable misunderstanding by the general population regarding what is truly considered a heart healthy diet. Many of us have heard over the years that we need to limit the cholesterol in our diets to only 300mg/day. Sadly, that’s just not true. In fact, a well-known biologist, Ancel Keys, declared in 1997 that “there’s no connection whatsoever between cholesterol in food and cholesterol in blood. And we’ve known it all along.” Based on some of Keys findings, further research was performed by a British doctor named John Yudkin analyzing the roles of different types of fat as well as carbohydrates and proteins in the diet. The results of Yudkin’s research revealed the startling fact that the single dietary factor that had the strongest association with coronary heart disease is sugar! So the big question is… what should we, and just as importantly, what should we not be eating??

EAT THIS: WILD ALASKAN SALMON

Salmon is one of the best sources of the well-known anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids. It is very important to ensure it is wild-caught as not all salmon is created equal! Wild salmon also contains one of the most powerful antioxidants, astaxanthin. Additionally, a 4 oz. serving contains 462 mg of heart-healthy potassium, equivalent to a medium banana.

EAT THIS: GRASS-FED MEAT

It is well known that animal fat and protein is necessary for the body to perform many physiologically necessary functions on a daily basis. Factory-farmed meat, however a source of fat and protein, tends to be loaded with antibiotics, steroids, hormones, and high levels of the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Grass fed meat, on the other hand, is raised organically and does not contain the negative components found in factory-farmed meats.

EAT THIS: VEGETABLES (AND SOME FRUIT)

It is well known that vegetables are loaded with natural anti-inflammatory compounds as well as antioxidants. The Nurses’ Health Study revealed that the higher the daily consumption of vegetables and fruits, the lower the chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Lower-sugar fruits such as apples, grapefruit, cherries, berries, and oranges are better choices to keep overall dietary sugar intake lower.

EAT THIS: NUTS

Multiple health studies have consistently shown a 30 to 50 percent lower risk in heart attacks or heart disease associated with eating nuts several times a week. Nuts contain an amino acid called arginine that provides protection to the inner lining of arterial walls making them less susceptible to damage. Also, arginine is needed to make nitric oxide, which helps relax constricted blood vessels and ease blood flow. Please note: peanuts are not actually nuts, they are legumes.

EAT THIS: BEANS

Very simply put, beans are an underrated food. The biggest factor that promotes the consumption of beans is their high fiber content. High fiber diets have been long associated with lower rates of many diseases, including heart disease.

THE “NOT THAT” LIST:

Sugar! – Enough said.

Processed Carbohydrates – These foods are almost always high-glycemic, meaning that raise our blood sugar quickly, which is exactly what we don’t want. This includes, but is not limited to, cereals, pastas, bread, minute rice, etc.

Trans-fats – As noted in the American Heart Association’s 2006 annual meeting, women who at the most trans fats were more than 3x likely to develop heart disease as women who at the least. Sadly, the FDA does not protect us from getting trans-fat in our diets. In fact, upwards of 0.4g of trans fat is allowed per serving, but can be labeled as trans-fat free. Look for the key words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” and avoid!

Processed Meats – Process meat is defined as any meat preserved by curing, salting, smoking, or the use of chemical preservatives. Studies revealed that a 1.8 oz daily serving of processed meat was associated with a 42% higher risk of developing heart disease.

Excessive Omega-6 Fats – Vegetable oils are most known for their high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which when consumed in excess are considered highly inflammatory. The level of consumption has only recently become a problem as the typical Westernized diet has excessive ratios of Omega 6 to Omega 3 (anti-inflammatory fatty acids), anywhere between 15:1 and 25:1. The imbalance and promotion of inflammation is known to be a risk for heart disease.

The information used to write this article was adapted from the book, The Great Cholesterol Myth. I highly recommend anyone read this book, especially if you’re interested in keeping your heart healthy.