If you're like most Americans, you already know the 'Bacon Burger and Fries' aren't doing your heart muscle any favors, so what the heck should we eat for better heart health?
Notes from our MAC Registered Dietitian:
February is American Heart Month. What a great time to think about setting goals to include heart healthy foods in your overall well-balanced diet! The foods we choose can have a profound effect on blood pressure and lab values like HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.
In the past, common nutrition recommendations for heart health focused almost exclusively on foods to avoid, namely high-fat foods. Low-fat diets dominated popular diet books, and low-fat food products felt like logical choices for heart health. Food manufacturers turned to added sugar and salt to make low-fat foods taste good, and as it turns out, this wasn’t great for our collective waistlines, or our hearts. Prominent nutrition researchers have evolved to adopt a more favorable attitude toward dietary fat, including a more neutral view on dietary cholesterol (like that in eggs) and saturated fat. In addition, recommendations surrounding certain fats, the unsaturated variety, now indicate that it’s likely we don’t eat enough. It turns out that maintaining a healthy heart has less to do with what we avoid, and more to do with making sure we get what we need from certain foods. Some studies have found diets including soy protein, fish, nuts, plant sterols and plenty of fiber may reduce blood cholesterol significantly. Consider adding these 5 foods to your grocery list this month. Your heart might thank you for it!
- Edamame (soy beans) – soy protein contains beneficial fatty acids that studies show might help to lower LDL cholesterol. Consider topping a salad with ¼ - ½ cup edamame. You can find it frozen, out of its shell, in most major grocery stores these days. Edamame is also a great plant-based protein source. Snacking on dried edamame is a great way to get extra protein in your day too!
- Lentils – Legumes, such as beans and lentils, as well as whole grain foods (like quinoa oats, barley, farro, etc.) contain significant amounts of dietary fiber which can help lower LDL cholesterol levels. A single serving of lentils (1 cup) provides half of the daily amount of fiber that we need for heart health, 25-30grams. Consider swapping your rice or bread at a meal for a creative dish involving legumes or whole grains. Make sure you drink plenty of water as part of your daily routine to get the most benefit from dietary fiber.
- Vegetables – compounds found in the cell membranes of plants, called plant sterols, may help reduce the absorption of cholesterol, preventing numbers from going up. Set a goal to include 6 cups of veggies in your daily meal plan. It sounds like a lot, but can easily be accomplished by a salad at lunch, veggies spread throughout the day as snacks, and a roasted vegetable side dish at dinner. Eating this quantity of veggies has the added bonus of helping to increase regularity and satiety. If weight loss happens to be a goal of yours, more veggies might be the key to success!
- Walnuts – walnuts contain more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than any other nut. Omega-3 fatty acids can help increase HDL (good) cholesterol. ¼ cup of walnuts per day as part of a meal or snack is a great goal. More isn’t necessarily better.
- Salmon – the American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fatty fish per week. Other types of fatty fish include sardines, mackerel, bluefish, anchovies, and herring. Fatty fish is another great source of omega-3 fatty acids. A single serving of fish should be somewhere between 4 and 6 ounces (cooked).