Heart health: How to fine tune your diet in 5 easy steps

17 Jul
Posted by Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training  0 Comment
Fruits and veggies for a heart healthy diet.

Samantha and I are in privileged company this week. We’re looking forward to a guest post from Louis Ignarro Ph.D, Nobel Laureate*, consultant to Herbalife and member of the Herbalife Nutrition Institute Nutrition Advisory Board, in which he’ll describe the impact of a healthy, active lifestyle on heart health. A healthy diet is, as Dr. Ignarro says, “As good for your heart as it is for your taste buds.”

I couldn’t have said it better. But what I often run into with my patients is that it’s one thing to know what to eat and why (okay, that’s two things), but they often get hung up figuring out how to incorporate more healthy foods into their diet. So, let’s take a good look at the key whatwhy and—more importantly—the how-to of a great diet for your heart health.

Eat an abundance of fruits and veggies

Why it’s heart healthy:

Aside from being low in calories, high in fiber and chock full of vitamins and minerals, fruits and vegetables provide the body with antioxidants. As part of everyday metabolism, the body produces something called oxygen free radicals—highly reactive molecules that can negatively affect cells and tissues in the body. It’s important to keep their formation in check, since free radicals can damage the lining of blood vessels and may encourage the so-called “bad cholesterol” to get trapped in the lining of arteries. Antioxidants offer protection by helping to keep the production of free radicals to a minimum.

How to:

Eat a fruit or veggie at every meal or snack. Add fruit to your breakfast protein shake, yogurt or cereal. Have a salad and/or steamed veggies at lunch and dinner, and snack on fresh whole fruits and vegetables. When you make a point to have a fruit or vegetable every time you eat, it’s easy to get all your servings in for the day.

Choose proteins for heart health

Why it’s heart healthy:

Protein is important for taming hunger, but your protein sources should be low in fat. Since saturated fats can raise cholesterol levels in the blood, choosing the lowest fat protein sources is the way to go. Meats naturally contain more saturated fat and cholesterol than poultry, and poultry has more fat than seafood. If you eat dairy products, it’s best to choose fat-free or low-fat. Plant proteins—like soy proteins, beans and lentils—are naturally cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat. And fish is a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats DHA and EPA.

How to:

Aim for a few fish meals per week. For convenience, you can’t beat canned tuna, salmon and beans—any of which can be tossed into a salad for a quick, balanced meal. Use nonfat or low-fat milk in cooking and in your smoothies and nonfat yogurt or cottage cheese at meals or snacks. If you eat red meat, choose the leanest cuts and trim visible fat. Replace high fat ground meats with ground poultry breast.

Eat plenty of fiber, especially soluble fiber

Why it’s heart healthy:

There are two main types of fiber, known as “soluble” and “insoluble.” Both are important, but they each have different effects on the body. Insoluble fiber is found primarily in vegetables and whole grains, and it speeds the rate at which food passes through the digestive tract, so it’s helpful in promoting regularity. But the soluble fiber (found in apples, oranges, carrots, oats, barley, and beans) traps water as well as cholesterol in the digestive tract. In doing so, it promotes fullness – which helps with weight management.

How to:

Snack on apples and carrots. Add beans to soups and salads or blend smooth into a dip. Aside from oatmeal, rolled oats can be added to protein shakes, or you can whirl rolled oats in the blender into a flour and use to partially replace wheat flour when you cook or bake at home.

Choose heart-healthy fats

Why it’s heart healthy:

Foods like fish, tree nuts, avocados and olive oil are considered some of the most heart-healthy fats, because they contain very little saturated fat and are good sources of polyunsaturated fats, which can help keep blood cholesterol levels in a healthy range.

How to:

Reduce the total amount of fat you use in cooking and at the table, and use heart-healthy olive oil as much as possible when you cook. Sprinkle nuts and seeds on salads, yogurt and cooked veggies. Try using avocado to replace other fats—replace mayonnaise with it in your tuna salad or for the spread on your whole grain toast. Aim for a few fish meals a week. If that doesn’t work for you, consider an omega-3 supplement.

Find and stay at a healthy weight

Why it’s heart healthy:

I listed this one last, because if you follow the other “whats” of a heart-healthy diet—and include regular exercise—chances are good that you’ll find and maintain your healthy weight. But I could have listed this one first, since maintaining a healthy body weight is one of the key factors in maintaining a healthy heart.

How to:

In addition to following the heart health guidelines above and getting plenty of exercise, another key issue to weight management is portion control. Plenty of people eat very well, but they still eat too much and carry too much weight. By keeping your portions moderate, you’ll control your overall calorie intake as well as the total amount of fat that you eat. Make sure to eat at regular intervals – and have some protein every time you eat, too, to help keep blood sugar levels steady and to control hunger.

Your Ultimate Guide to Choosing Beneficial Fats

14 Jul
 Posted by Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training  0 Comment
Olive oil is a source of beneficial fat.

Beneficial fats can help promote heart health. Here are some tips for working more beneficial fats into your diet.

Confused about beneficial fats and bad fats? You’re not alone. Aside from questions about weight loss, the topic of beneficial fats seems to come up more than any other. Many people I talk to remember the low fat diet era of 20 years ago—just as they remember the high fat/low carb era that followed right behind. Then suddenly it wasn’t merely about how much, or how little fat we should be eating, but whether or not we were eating the right kinds of fat.

What Are Beneficial Fats, and Why Are They Good For You?

Fats can be divided up into two broad categories: saturated (unhealthy fats) and unsaturated (beneficial fats). Of the two, the unsaturated fats are considered better for you, since these fats are derived primarily from plant foods and can help to keep blood cholesterol levels within a normal range. On the other hand, a diet with a lot of saturated fats (found primarily in animal products like butter, cheese, whole milk and meat), can contribute to a rise in cholesterol.

Unsaturated fats can be further broken down into two categories: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. You’ll find monounsaturated fats in nuts, seeds, olive oils and avocados. They’re considered beneficial when eaten in moderate amounts.

Polyunsaturated fats can be further classified as either omega-3 or omega-6 fats. While your body requires both types, you need them in the proper balance to promote health. The problem for most of us is that we eat too many omega-6 fats (fried foods, snack foods and sweet baked goods) and not enough fish, nuts, seeds and leafy greens that provide the omega-3s.

Be Choosy With Fats To Keep Calories in Check

Now, added fats do add calories to your diet. All oils, regardless of their source, have about 120 calories a tablespoon. Just because olive oil is a beneficial fat, doesn’t mean you should pour it all over your food.

How to Get More Beneficial Fats Into Your Diet

The foods that contain beneficial fats include nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil, seafood and avocados. Here are some ways to work more of these beneficial fats into your day.

Nuts and Seeds

Almonds, pistachios, walnuts and pecans are considered tree nuts, which have more heart-healthy omega-3 than peanuts (not actually nuts, but beans). Here are some ways to include more nuts and seeds into your diet.

    • • A handful of nuts make a filling snack.
    • • Try stirring some nut butter into oatmeal, yogurt or protein shakes; or spread some on apple slices for a quick snack.
    • • Finely ground nuts make a delicious crispy coating for fish or chicken. Dip fish fillets or chicken breasts into beaten egg white, then lightly coat with ground nuts. Season with salt and pepper, then bake or saute.
    • • Sprinkle nuts or seeds into green salads, on top of cooked vegetables, yogurt or hot cereal, and into your shakes.
    • • Add nuts and seeds to trail mix.
    • Tahini (sesame seed paste) makes a delicious base for a salad dressing or sauce.
Olive Oil and Olives

Olive oil is also one of the richest sources of monounsaturated fat. If the flavor of extra-virgin olive oil is too strong for you, look for light olive oils that have the same calories as regular olive oil, but are lighter in flavor.

    • • Use olive oil to replace vegetable oils and butter when you cook.
    • • Make your own salad dressing with 2 parts olive oil, 1 part lemon juice or vinegar; salt and pepper to taste.
    • • Use a tiny bit of olive oil to flavor cooked vegetables.
    • • Add whole olives to salad, or chopped olives to pasta sauces, or stirred into whole grain dishes after cooking.
    • Try an olive spread on whole grain crackers. Whip up chopped olives, garlic and a little tomato paste in the blender.

Fish fat naturally contains heart-healthy omega-3.

    • • Canned tuna and salmon are super-convenient. Flake some tuna or salmon on top of a green salad for a quick meal.
    • • Add frozen cooked shrimp and scallops to soups or pasta dishes.
    • • Use fish instead of chicken in some of your favorite dishes like tacos or one-dish meals.
    • Order fish more often in restaurants.

Avocados are technically a fruit and a good source of monounsaturated fat. Here are a few of my favorite uses for avocado.

    • • Use mashed avocado as a substitute for mayonnaise in tuna salad or egg salad.
    • • Mash into guacamole with a little lime juice and salt; use cut veggies rather than chips for dipping.
    • • Try a few slices of avocado in an omelet, or on top of hard-boiled eggs.
    • Mix diced avocado, mango and red onion with a little lime juice and cilantro into a delicious salsa.