Happy Heart Month! How are you spending this lovey-dovey month? I had the pleasure of getting to attend New Braunfels Love Your Heart annual luncheon last week. Love Your Heart is a non-profit organization that spreads awareness and education on heart disease, the number one cause of death (more than cancer, lung disease, and diabetes combined).  They had a great heart-healthy eating segment by a few area dietitians. It inspired me to spread the word this month via my little blog.

What do you think of when someone says “heart healthy” or “cardiac” diet? A bland, salt-free meal plan void of fun and flavor? Often when someone is diagnosed with a heart-related ailment, the doctor goes further to burst bubbles by lecturing “no salt, low-fat, no fried, blah blah.” If you’ve been eating a certain way your whole life, that is not easy news to digest, and you are not likely to suddenly change or maintain that change. It’s tough! That’s why you come see me, or another dietitian near you. This dietary “death sentence” as I’ve heard some patients call it, does not have to be so dire. I don’t even call it a diet. It’s a lifestyle, and it’s what we should all strive for. Below are some tips to start incorporating into your life RIGHT NOW.

  • Are products altered to be “low-fat” or “fat-free” better for you? Not necessarily. Many of these products are loaded with preservatives, fillers, and sodium to improve flavor. You are actually better off using real, whole foods (yes, like butter) in moderation and eat more foods that are naturally low in fat like lean meats, fruits, vegetables, or whole grains. Be an avid label reader when grocery shopping. If the ingredient list is a mile-long and you can’t pronounce most of it, it’s probably not a good choice.
  • Are saturated fats the devil? No, trans-fats are. While it is a good idea to LIMIT your saturated fat intake, you still need some in your diet. Having animal products such as lean beef, poultry, low-fat dairy, and dare I say it again…a little (real) butter in moderation is OK.
  • Trans-fats are a different story. If you were to take one thing away from my rambling, make it this. The recommended daily intake is a big fat 0. These man-made jerks used as shelf-stabilizers are real artery-cloggers, and can significantly increase your risk for heart-disease. They are often found in baked goods, fast-food, etc. Even if the nutrition label reads 0 grams trans-fat, if it says “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list – that’s trans fat. Avoid.
  • Replace bad fats with good fats. Good fats meaning unsaturated fats. I could break down the different types but as you may already feel, this post is getting lengthy. Think avocados, nuts, olive oil, cold water fish, and flax-seed to name a few.
  • Fruits and Vegetables. Yes you know you should eat them, but you really should! Make a goal of adding 5 fruits or vegetables to your diet now. If that’s too much, maybe start with 2 or 3 and work your way up. Not only are you adding a bunch of heart-protecting vitamins, minerals, and natural antioxidants to your system, you are increasing fiber – which reduces cholesterol. Ever wondered why exactly? Fiber helps drag bile acids (which contain cholesterol) out of your intestines so you can, well, happily flush it away.
  • Carbs. The low-carb/no-carb craze drives me crazy. It is not great for your health for many reasons that I don’t have time to get into here…perhaps another future post. The key is to replace any refined carbs (white bread, sugar, etc) with complex carbs. Complex carbs are whole grains, fruit, vegetables, legumes, and some dairy products. When you cut carbs, you are cutting a plethora of heart-benefitting nutrients. See my post on counting carbs if you are curious about appropriate portions http://elissanutrition.wordpress.com/2010/03/13/counting-carbs/
  • Don’t smoke. Easier said than done for some, but just don’t. Even if your diet could use a lot of work, quitting smoking alone would do wonders for every aspect of your health. After all, it doubles to quadruples your heart disease risk and it accounts for 1/5 cardiac-related deaths. Plus quitting makes food taste better….

So……maybe you have a history of heart disease. If you don’t that’s great, prevention is key. I can guarantee you, however, that even if you don’t, there is SOMEONE you know that has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, has had a heart attack, or maybe a stroke. Reach out to them. Set the example and spread the knowledge on a heart-healthy lifestyle. It is the way everyone should be eating, young and old. Have a stubborn friend or family member that may not eat the best? You probably do. Have a heart-to-heart (no pun intended) and let them know you care, and that even the smallest change in the right direction saves lives.

Love your heart!

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