The Heart-Smart Diet: 8 Steps to a Healthier You
Target Saturated and Trans-Fats
Whether you’re curled up with a book or pushing a stroller uphill, your heart works hard for you—a healthy one beats 100,000 times and pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood daily. To help it do its job—and prevent heart disease—take stock of your diet.
“What you eat and how you prepare food can strongly affect your blood cholesterol, your blood pressure, and the propensity for plaque to build up in your arteries over the long run,” says Dr. Lori Mosca, MD, director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Medical Center in New York City.
The good news is that eating heart healthy doesn’t require any special regimen—it’s just a balanced plan that follows the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and also helps ward off cancer, diabetes, and hypertension, especially if you keep tabs on calories. But considering that plenty of not-so-good-for-you foods are just a drive-thru away, we could all use a little inspiration and guidance. You’re never too young to take good care of your heart. Read on for the key nutrition rules that will help you and your family eat to beat heart disease.
To keep your arteries clear, cut down on your intake of both saturated fat (the kind that’s solid at room temperature and found in many types of animal products) and trans-fats (processed vegetable oil in which hydrogen has been added to the molecule to make it more solid and give it a longer shelf life). Both types raise your body’s level of bad LDL cholesterol—much more so than any cholesterol you get from food. When too much LDL cholesterol circulates in the bloodstream, it can slowly build up on the walls of arteries feeding your heart and brain, forming thick, hard plaque. Trans-fats also lower good HDL cholesterol, making them doubly bad for your heart. HDL cholesterol is beneficial because it reduces plaque buildup by ushering excess LDL cholesterol from artery walls and back to the liver, where it’s passed from the body.
Food Fix: Aim to have no more than 30 percent of your calories come from fat, with 10 percent or less from saturated and trans-fat. “Limit butter, vegetable shortening and lard in cooking,” suggests Bethany Thayer, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association in Detroit. Instead, use olive and canola oils, which both contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Because these healthy fats are still high in calories (120 calories per tablespoon), so go easy to avoid weight gain, which is an independent risk factor for heart disease. Also, instead of butter or regular margarine, consider spreads such as Take Control or Benecol, which are enriched with plant sterols or stanols—compounds that can inhibit the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine, thereby lowering LDLs. (Products such as Yoplait Healthy Heart yogurt and Minute Maid Heart Wise orange juice also contain plant sterols.)
Other ways to trim saturated fats from your diet: Drink skim or low-fat milk rather than two percent or whole. (Toddlers can switch to skim or low-fat milk starting at age two.) “And choose lean meats and skinless poultry, keeping servings to about the size of your palm,” suggests Thayer. Finally, avoid processed cookies, crackers, chips, and bakery products, which are often high in trans-fats (also called “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” fat or oil in the ingredient list). Check the nutrition label to find snacks that are low in both saturated and trans-fat.
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