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Heart-Healthy Eating

Heart-healthy eating requires a dedication to eating whole foods and avoiding fast, fatty and processed foods. But is that enough? The Mayo Clinic has a few more recommendations for heart-healthy eating and heart-healthy lifestyle approaches.

Keep your Portion Size Controlled

Remember the documentary film “Super Size Me”? In this film, the director and star, Morgan Spurlock, decided to eat only super-sized fast foods. At the end of 30 days, Spurlock gains almost 25 pounds, his cholesterol level shoots up, he gains fatty deposits around his liver, experiences lack of energy, mood swings and sexual dysfunction. It took Spurlock over a year to regain his previous state of good health. The fast-food industry soon dropped the whole super-size concept.

Common portion sizes are still larger than they were, say, 20 years ago, however. An average cheeseburger, for example, used to be 4.5 ounces—it is now 8 ounces. An average soft drink used to be 6.5 ounces—it is now 20 ounces! Even a bagel’s size has doubled from 3 inches across to 6 inches across!

So, how can you control the portion size? Here are some tips:

  • Don’t overload your plate—or, use a smaller plate
  • When you are adding food to your plate, start with the vegetables
  • Don’t skip meals. You tend to load up the plate more when you are very hungry
  • Keep “portion” sizes in mind
  • Think about using bento boxes or portion-control plates. These often have painted lines or are divided into portions using raised ridges
  • Restaurants are relatively notorious for overloading plates—ask the server to put half the meal on the plate and half in a take-away container.

Choose Healthy Fats

The word “fat” has gotten a bad reputation, but not all fat is created equal! We need fat for energy production and storage, to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamins A, D, E and K and to help insulate and maintain core body temperature and protect internal organs, but it’s the “healthy” fats we need.

Avoid Saturated and Trans fats!

  • Saturated fats.
    • Fats are made of long carbon chains—when all the chemical bonds are single bonds, the fat is saturated.
    • These are found in meat—especially grain-fed meat—and can raise cholesterol levels in the blood.
    • Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature—these include lard, butter, margarine, shortening etc.
  • Trans fats
    • Trans fats are not found in high levels in natural foods and are produced by the large-scale processing of foods.
    • Trans fats are often listed as “hydrogenated fats” on nutritional labels
    • Trans fats raise the risk of heart disease by raising LDL-Cholesterol and lipoproteins.

Instead, you should be looking at including mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. The term “unsaturated” means that there is one (mono) or more (poly) double bonds. Foods with mono- and poly-unsaturated fats include:

  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Other vegetable and nut oils
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Avocados

These fats tend to be liquid at room temperature. One note about coconut oil: coconut oil contains a significant amount of saturated fat. However, the fats in coconut oil are made up of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and a bit different than the longer-chain triglycerides found in other solid fats. The MCTs may be helpful in weight loss and may increase HDL-cholesterol. This is often referred to as “good” cholesterol because it helps transport LDL-cholesterol (aka “bad” cholesterol) to the liver where it may help reduce the risk of fatty liver. That all sounds great, but the fact is that very little research has been done in humans to provide proof for these benefits. All in all, consider using coconut oil occasionally, but not regularly until all the evidence is in.

Choose Low-fat Sources of Protein

When people think of protein, they usually think of meat—and this is true. But there are other sources of protein to consider as well. Whatever source you choose (and it is wise to mix and match protein sources) make certain that it is low-fat protein. Sources of low-fat protein include:

  • Lean meats
  • Skinless poultry
  • Fish—especially cold-water fish. With cold-water fish, you get the added benefit of omega-3 fatty acids. These fish include salmon, sardines, mackerel, lake trout, herring, halibut, catfish and albacore tuna
  • Eggs and egg whites
  • Legumes – this group includes beans, peas, lentils, soy nuts, carob nuts and peanuts

Heart Healthy Eating

It may sound complicated—but it really is straightforward. Heart healthy eating means eating whole-grain, non-processed foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds and low-fat protein high in nutrients. Avoid saturated and trans fats, and consume healthy fats. Including smaller portions will not only help with your heart, but will also help you keep your weight within a healthy range. Remember, good health comes from daily decisions. Drink more water, consume more vegetables, get some daily exercise, a goodnights sleep and meditate for a few minutes each day. Remember, YOU have the power to transform your health … ONE healthy choice at a time!

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