Americans are eating themselves into the cardiac ward, quite literally! Research has shown time and again that saturated fats in meat, whole-fat dairy, and other animal products, and trans-fatty acids found in fried and processed foods have deleterious effects on the cardiovascular system and increase risk of heart disease—but people still insist on eating them.
A smarter approach is to cut these “heart attack” foods out of your diet, and make these four dietary changes to keep your heart healthy and strong.
1. Get your daily dose of fiber. For patients with heart disease, fiber is extremely important. We have known for decades that a high-fiber diet results in a reduction in cholesterol levels. A study published in JAMA, which followed the dietary habits of men ages 40 to 75, suggests that adequate fiber also protects against heart disease. The study found a strong relationship between fiber intake and decreased risk of heart attack. My favorite source of fiber is flaxseed.
Flaxseed provides a high amount of soluble and insoluble fiber. One-fourth cup (50 grams) has 11.7 grams of fiber. I suggest incorporating ¼ cup of freshly ground flaxseed into your diet each day. These tiny golden or brown seeds have a rich, nutty flavor. Because the oils in ground flaxseed can become rancid quickly, I don’t recommend using pre-ground seed or flax oil. Instead purchase whole flaxseeds and grind them just before consumption.
2. Pick the right protein. Make sure you get adequate amounts of high-quality, low-fat protein from skinless poultry, fish (especially salmon), egg whites, beans, legumes, and occasional servings of lean meat. One serving is equal to four ounces of animal protein or four to six egg whites.
3. Choose the right carbohydrates. When it comes to carbohydrates you need to make sure you choose the right ones. Vegetables, beans, and legumes should be a mainstay in your diet. They are high in fiber and have a low-glycemic index, which means they promote a slow, sustained release of blood sugar and insulin. Limit your fruit intake to one to two pieces per day.
You should also avoid starches, sugars, and other carbohydrates with a high-glycemic index. They are rapidly broken down in the digestive tract and cause sharp spikes in blood sugar. High-glycemic index foods contribute to insulin resistance, which is a common underlying cause of hypertension and abnormalities in cholesterol and triglycerides.
4. Eat healthy fats in moderation. These include omega-3 fatty acids found in flaxseed and cold-water fish, monounsaturated oils such as extra virgin olive oil, and unprocessed omega-6 polyunsaturated fats in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.
Now it’s your turn: Do you have a trick for getting heart-healthy foods into your diet?