Your Heart May be Calling for a Change in Your Diet

Armen Hareyan's picture

Heart Healthy Diet Program

The journey to a healthier heart may require a few changes to your diet, but that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice flavor. Olive oils, your favorite fruits and vegetables, fresh fish and nutty grains are all rich in flavor, heavy on taste and good for your heart.

Lowering the consumption of bad fats and eating more nutrient-rich and fibrous foods are major keys to a heart healthy diet. These strategies help control your level of cholesterol, the fat-like substance that runs through the bloodstream.

"Looking at the nutrition facts on food labels is an easy way to ensure control over the recommended daily values of cholesterol and fiber," advises Dr. Irmina Pizlo, cardiologist for Clarian Cardiovascular. "Plus every label is a helpful reminder of the daily allowance for all food types, including less than 300 grams of cholesterol and 25-30 grams of fiber."

"Avoiding fad diets is another important component to heart health," adds Dr. Pizlo. "Everyone's diet should include a healthy balance of fats, carbohydrates and proteins."

The Skinny on Fats

Basically, there are four types of fat: one bad (trans fats), one not so good (saturated) and two good (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated). However, all can be harmful if you eat too much. Moderation is key.

Saturated fats include animal products and some plant oils like coconut oil or cocoa butter. Hydrogenation is a chemical process in which a liquid is hardened; this is when any type of fat becomes a trans fat. Trans fats should be avoided altogether. On food labels, look for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated ingredients.

Polyunsaturated fats include corn oil, sunflower oil and omega-3 fatty acids. Evidence suggests that omega-3 acids will lower triglyceride levels (another bad fat stored in the body) and can reduce clotting. Fatty fish like cod, salmon and trout are good sources of omega-3s. The USDA recommends choosing lean meats like fish daily and many experts advise eating fish three times per week. If you don't like fish, consider a fish oil supplement.

Monounsaturated fats like olive oil, canola oil and avocados will help raise your level of good cholesterol (HDL). Replacing bad fats with olive oil is great for a heart healthy diet and helps lower you blood cholesterol. But measure the amount used because two tablespoons contain 240 calories.


Add Some 'Flava'

Flavonoids are a substance found in many foods and known to have excellent antioxidant properties. Some studies have indicated that antioxidants have various health benefits including the ability to help fight heart disease. Good sources of flavonoids include citrus fruits, tomatoes, cranberries and other berries, nuts, green tea, red wine, onions and even dark chocolate.

Soy foods are full of isoflavones, a type of flavonoid that may help lower your cholesterol and lesson the risk of heart disease. About 25 grams of soy proteins a day can help lower cholesterol levels. Plus, soy foods are low in saturated fat, cholesterol-free and high in protein.

Fill up on Fiber

Fiber is the part of fruits, vegetables and grains your body cannot digest. They help the digestive system run smoothly, exercise the intestines, and keep the cholesterol and bad fats you eat from being absorbed by the body.

You should eat a colorful variety of fruits and especially orange and dark green vegetables for fiber. You can enjoy good carbohydrates with whole grain breads, cereals and pastas. All of these options offer a unique, nutty flavor and replace the sugary, starchiness of white and enriched breads.

Stay Away from Salt

Too much sodium can be a problem for people with heart trouble. Sodium is part of regular table salt, sea salt and salt substitutes. Total sodium intake should be less than 2,000 grams a day and foods with more than 360 mg of sodium per serving should be avoided.

Herbs and spices are a heart healthy way to replace sodium in your diet. Experiment with herbs and spices to add some flavor and to create a refreshing twist on your favorite recipes.

"Reducing your sodium intake is the easiest way to implement a heart healthy diet," says Dr. Pizlo. "The first change we recommend for patients with heart problems is to eliminate salt from their diet."