Eating healthy for your heart
10 timely tips (published in Forever Young)
By Ellen Ashton-Haiste
Comfort food. Wining and dining. Decadent delights.
Your heart’s desires when it comes to satisfying the taste buds may
not be what your heart really needs to keep running in tip-top shape.
So what does it need? From doctors to dietitians, the experts agree on
one thing: eat a balanced diet and watch intake of fats, particularly
the saturated and trans varieties.
“It sounds boring, I
know,” laughs Jenny Okroj, a Saskatchewan dietitian with the Population
and Public Health Services for Regina-Qu’Appelle.
it have to be? Maybe not. There’s a balance between practicing great
eating habits and factoring in tastier options. First know the rules
and then think creatively about how to apply them.
With that in mind, we’ve complied a top-10 digest of ways to eat your way to a healthier heart.
1. Fat Foes
Pay attention to the fat content in your diet and be aware of the type
of fats, Okroj says. It turns out saturated fats are bad guys. “Where
we used to say foods high in cholesterol were harmful to the heart, we
now know that very few people who eat high-cholesterol foods have
problems. But for people who eat a lot of saturated fats, there’s an
association with increased risk for heart disease.”
comes to saturated fats, choose those that are closest to liquid at
room temperature, she advises. For example, oils are good; next best is
soft tub margarine; worst is butter. That doesn’t mean you can’t have
butter. “You can have anything in moderation,” Okroj says. Just apply
the moderation rule.
There are tricks to make this go
down better. Highly flavoured oils like sesame or peanut can be used in
smaller quantities — just a few drops add plenty of flavour. Likewise
flavoured vinegars in dressings and vinaigrettes can be increased and
the amount of oil decreased accordingly. 2. Fun with health food
But, if you really want to know how to make healthy and low-fat food
taste good, a couple of experts are Janet and Greta Podleski, authors
of the highly successful Canadian cookbook series that started with
Looney Spoons. With puns and humour and some good science — Janet now
has a degree from the Canadian College of Natural Nutrition — they have
made healthy cooking both fun and popular.
These days, the
pair has taken their fun with food to the small screen. Their TV show,
Eat, Shrink and Be Merry, will launch its second season this spring on
the food network (first season shows are now airing Wednesdays at 6:30
p.m.). A kind of extreme makeover-recipe edition, the program sees the
sisters take classic dishes by well-known chefs and creatively
substitute healthy ingredients while attempting to retain the original
flavour. Watch and learn. 3. Weight watching What you weigh determines what you get, heart-health-wise.
“Hypertension is a risk factor for heart disease and one of the first
things you want to do for that is to make sure you’re at a normal
weight,” Okroj says. In fact, of 11 risk factors for heart problems, at
least eight are related to diet, food and drink.
diets galore out there but most don’t yield lasting effects. One that
has worked for many problem cases is the G.I. diet, as outlined in a
book of the same name by Rick Gallop, past president of the Heart and
Stoke Foundation of Ontario. He divides foods into three groups: red
light — high calorie, low-nutrient, to be avoided; yellow light — okay
in moderation especially on a maintenance weight program; and green
light — nutritious, low-calorie, the best options. The glycemic
index, which rates foods by measuring the speed at which their
carbohydrates break down in the digestive system and turn into glucose,
was developed by nutritional sciences professor Dr. David Jenkins as a
way to help diabetics get calories without consuming too much fat.
Gallop says his diet, largely based on the index, “is heart friendly in
that it is a balanced diet, focused on reducing the saturated fats and
sodium in our diet.” In addition to the G.I. rating, Gallop used those
two criteria plus calorie density in coming up with recommended “green
4. Appetite control
Of course, one of the simplest formulas for losing weight is eat less.
Allowing that this is often not as easy as it sounds, the Mayo Clinic
offers tips to help curb appetite: • don’t skip breakfast — you’ll be less likely to overeat at lunch; • eat slowly — savour flavours and textures and remember it takes 20 minutes for the brain to register that you’re full; • eat only when hungry; • ride out the urges since cravings usually pass within seconds or minutes; • splurge occasionally — an occasional lapse won’t hurt.
5. Nuts to your heart When it comes to snacking, forget potato chips. Nuts are better – good nutrient-packed morsels that taste great.
And in the nutty world, almonds may be king.
"They are definitely a super food,” says Helene Charlebois, a
registered dietitian in Ottawa. “All nuts are highly nutritious and
nutrient dense but almonds tend to be that much more so. If I was on a
deserted island and had a choice of one nut, I would choose almonds.”
Packed with fibre, riboflavin, magnesium, iron, calcium and the natural
antioxidant vitamin E, they’re also heart healthy in that most of their
fat is monounsaturated.
As well, they’re versatile. Just a few ways they may be added to the diet include: • sliced and sprinkled, along with diced fruits, on granola or cereal; • slivered in salads in place of croutons; • slivered in soup — butternut squash for example — for added crunch; • sprinkled ground on casseroles or as part of a meat coating, a nutritious alternative to bread crumbs.
6. Chocaholics’ delight
Good news for those with a sweet tooth is that chocolate — one of the
most addictive treats known to man, or more specifically, woman — may
be good news for the heart as well.
According to the Mayo
Clinic, chocolate, particularly the dark variety, contains flavanoids
which are natural antioxidants (also found in tea, red wine and fruits
and vegetables). These may help limit the negative effects of
lipoproteins, components of the “bad” LDL cholesterol. Flavonoids may
protect arteries and prevent heart disease, stroke and arteriosclerosis.
A new product on the market, labeled “Heart Chocolate,” claims
additional health benefits in lowering cholesterol and blood glucose
levels, thanks to a natural proprietary compound of cinnamon and bitter
melon extracts, called CM-X. Both ingredients are said to be
traditional remedies used to lower blood sugar and cholesterol.
7. The Omega factor Cholesterol-fighting Omega 3 fatty acids are increasingly recognized as “very important” for good heart health, says Okroj.
In fact, people should eat a couple servings a week of fatty fish as a
good source of this nutrient, agrees Deborah Kennedy, a naturopathic
doctor with the Robert Schad Clinic at the Canadian College of
Naturopathic Medicine. She recommends wild fish, as opposed to farmed,
“to reduce the risk of heavy metals and pesticides.”
Another good source of Omega 3, says Okroj, is flax. She advises buying
the seeds in the bulk bins of the supermarket and grinding up small
amounts to put in anything from cereal or fresh-baked bread to
meatloaf. “You’re aiming for one to two tablespoons a day; it’s cheaper
than buying a supplement and you’re getting some fibre as well.”
8. Cooking Tips
How you cook may be just as important as what you cook. The rule of
thumb is to avoid adding extra fat and to retain the nutrients.
Traditional advice has advocated baking or broiling instead of frying.
The problem with frying has always been the added fats, says Okroj.
“So, if you have a non-stick frying pan and use cooking spray — I know
it may not be good for the ozone but it is for health — you’re not
adding too much fat.”
For nutrient retention steaming is
good and Okroj notes that if foods are boiled, save the water and use
it in something else, like soup or gravy “because that’s where some of
the nutrients go.”
She adds that microwaving is considered a safe way of preparing food and good for nutrient retention.
9. How much is enough? Serving sizes can be key to keeping weight under control and the heart in shape.
According to the Mayo Clinic: “If your morning cereal is mounded high
in the bowl, it might be two servings, not one.” So, pay attention to
the serving sizes listed on labels.
Some guidelines from the Mayo Clinic Health Letter archives may help visualize the amounts: • 1 cup cereal = a large handful • 3 ounces of meat = a deck of cards • 1 cup vegetables = the size of a fist • 1 medium apple or orange = a tennis ball • 1 ounce cheese = four stacked dice • 1 teaspoon butter = the tip of your thumb to the first knuckle
10. Veggies, fruit and vitamin D
As common sense as it sounds, these are all important to heart and
overall health, Okroj notes. “The antioxidants are important.” She
recommends the more nutrient-dense deep coloured fruits and vegetables
— yellow, red, orange and dark green — “some of the things we don’t eat
a lot of, like sweet potatoes, which are high in beta carotenes and
Vitamin D is “a huge nutrient that’s
been ignored for too long,” she says, adding that current research
indicates it may have many benefits, besides helping to absorb calcium
— “related to heart health, cancer risk, multiple sclerosis.” Even
Canada’s Food Guide authors admit it’s not possible to get enough from
food alone, she says, and Canadians don’t get it from the sun during
winter months. So it really is necessary to supplement, especially for
those over 50, ideally with a multi-vitamin or calcium supplement with
added vitamin D.