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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 what, why and—more importantly—the how-to of a great diet for your heart health.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Herbalife markets products containing soy proteins and dietary supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids.
*The Nobel Foundation has no affiliation with Herbalife and does not review, approve or endorse Herbalife® products.