‘Heart Healthy’ Starts With What’s On Your Plate

What is good for your heart is good for your body

National Nutrition Month® is an annual nutrition education and information campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign, celebrated each year during March, focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. Over the years, we have been educated on how to eat a balanced diet and how to read nutrition facts labels.

Make smart choices

Do you know what’s really in your food?
How many calories?
How many nutrients?

Over the years, many “fad diets” have arrived, each with a promise to improve health through some ingredient or process. One truth has emerged, a healthy diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry, and fish that also limits saturated and trans fats, sodium, red meat, and sugars offers long-term benefits to your health and your heart. Dr. Kevin Woods is a cardiologist with a passion for nutrition. He pointed out the popularity of ‘heart healthy’ diets. “Heart-healthy eating does more than reduce your blood pressure or cholesterol, lower your weight or sugar levels; at the end of the day what we are trying to accomplish is lowering your risk of heart disease. It turns out that what is good for your heart is good for the rest of your body too!”

This year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is promoting cutting down the fat in our meals while savoring the flavor. The propose the following tips:

• Use heart-healthy canola, olive or peanut oil instead of solid fats. • Use sharp, reduced-fat cheese and low-fat milk in your macaroni and cheese • Sweeten your desserts with fruit puree or apple sauce instead of sugar • Use whole wheat flour instead of white flour in muffins • Opt for brown rice instead of white rice in your red beans and rice or jambalaya.

We are what we eat

Dr. Woods noted the challenge in changing how we eat. “If you look at population studies that eat what we call the ‘Standard American Diet’ or SAD Diet, they are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. If you start taking items away from that, like red meat or meat in general, and you take away meat and dairy there are progressively lower levels of reported heart disease,” he stated.

Canada recently updated its Food Guide to offer advice on what to eat, what not to eat, and how to eat. “Half of the plate is filled with fruits and vegetables, a quarter of whole grains, the other quarter is protein. They specifically state that plant-based protein is preferred to animal-based proteins. They have also removed dairy as a food group. Instead of having a glass of milk on the side of their plate, there is a glass of water which is certainly the most healthy beverage for a meal,” said Dr. Woods. Canada has also removed the traditional four food groups into three key food groupings: vegetables and fruits; whole grains; and protein foods — foods that should be a regular part of your diet. The photo also represents the proportion of how much of each grouping should be consumed with more fruits and veggies, fewer grains and proteins.

Whether you are looking at the Food Guide Pyramid or Canada’s Food Guide, you will notice that processed foods are not included as part of a heart-healthy or well-balanced meal. Not all processed foods are unhealthy, but some processed foods may contain high levels of salt, sugar, and fat. “Processed foods, in general, are not good for you,” says Dr. Woods. “Whether you are talking about meat or dairy, even processed sugars. They contribute to build up of plaque in your arteries, increase your risk of diabetes, and if you look at cold cuts, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, those are the worst of the worst. When it comes to cancer risk, researchers lump processed meats as cigarette smoke.”

Exercise snacking

Two controllable risk factors in your health are diet and exercise. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of physical activity per week. That breaks down to about 20 minutes of activity or exercise PER DAY. For those struggling to find time for a walk on your lunch break, exercise before or after work, or any heart-pumping activity during the day, there is a new trend you can follow, “exercise snacking.”

A study by Canadian researchers found that climbing stairs at short intervals throughout the day can improve cardiovascular health and may even add years to your life. They call it “exercise snacking,” the technical term is sprint interval training (SIT), which can be effective when done as a single session with a few minutes of recovery between each intense burst of exercise, only requiring about 10 minutes of exercise total. “I like this term ‘exercise snacking,’ it’s certainly better than the other snacking we know!”, exclaimed Dr. Woods. “I do encourage my patients to embrace physical activity. One of the things I bring up is that if you don’t have time to exercise or be active in the traditional sense of workouts in the gym if you break it up, time adds up. I encourage them to get a pedometer to count your steps during the day. Every hour you should stand up, walk for a minute, even stretch your legs; do something even if it is just for a few minutes every hour it will add up at the end of the day. Set a goal to reach 10,000 steps a day, it will take some effort but being able to break it up throughout the day and tracking your progress will help motivate you to hit your goal.”

Written by: Michael Arce, Marketing Coordinator, Capital Cardiology Associates Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.