February Is Heart Health Month – Is Your Heart-Healthy Diet Outdated?

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Is Your Heart-Healthy Diet Outdated?

Doctors, Dietitians, Magazine articles, everywhere we turn we are getting different advice about the idea heart-healthy diet. Not to mention, that the suggested diet advice is constantly changing with each new study.

According to some of the surveys conducted over the past few years by the Cleveland Clinic, over 30% of respondents believe that a low-fat diet offers the best protection against heart disease. There is something to be said for a low-fat diet, but the notion that restricting all fat promotes optimal heart health is outdated. Based on decades of quality research the idea heart–healthy diet has been revised over the years. Here’s how nutrition advice for lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart disease risk has shifted over the years.

The key to a healthy heart isn’t reducing total fat, but rather limiting foods rich in saturated fat, like butter, red meat, and full-fat dairy products and replacing them with sources of heart-healthy unsaturated fats, including salmon and other fatty fish, olive oil, canola oil, avocados and nuts and seeds, just to name a few. Eating a high-fat diet can be very beneficial if you choose the right foods, as evidenced by research showing that people that eat a Mediterranean-style diet are at reduced risk for heart disease and other chronic diseases.

Another modern day fact is that limiting sugar and other refined carbohydrates is critical, and likely even more important than the emphasis on a low-fat diet. In the past, so many guidelines for a heart-healthy diet focused almost completely on fat and dietary cholesterol that there was minimal direction in regards to carbohydrates. Things have changed since then and we now know that a diet high in refined carbohydrates from sugary beverages, desserts, and foods made with white flour raises triglyceride levels, lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, increases the worst type of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and promotes inflammation, all of which increase the risk of having a heart attack.
The goal with carbohydrates, just as with fat, is to choose the most nutritious carbohydrates, not avoid them altogether. Eating a variety of high-quality carbs including vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, and whole grains (especially in whole kernel form, like oats, barley, and brown rice) is one of the best things that you can do for your heart.

In the past we were always told to eat lean proteins. The modern approach is to choose more plant- based proteins. This list includes beans, lentils, nuts, and whole soy foods. Many of these foods are rich in fiber, which reduces heart disease risk. Plant proteins also provide an impressive nutritional advantage — they’re rich in vitamins and minerals and may help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Speaking of cholesterol, do you recall how heavy the emphasis was on limiting cholesterol back then? Well, while it is still true that minimizing cholesterol intake is important, research has now revealed that dietary cholesterol intake has much less of an impact on blood cholesterol levels than the types and amounts of fats and carbohydrates consumed. In fact, newer diet guidelines issued by the American Heart Association in 2013 concluded that there is insufficient evidence to determine whether lowering dietary cholesterol reduces LDL cholesterol levels. That means that most healthy people can enjoy diets that include high-cholesterol as long as it is kept in moderation. Although it is still very important to remember that people with type 2 diabetes need to stay more conscious of their cholesterol intake.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is that limiting sodium intake lowers blood pressure. But there is another mineral that appears to play an important counter role, and it is Potassium. Potassium works to offset sodium’s adverse effects by relaxing and widening blood vessels, so eating more potassium-rich foods may help to lower blood pressure. Potassium is found in a variety of vegetables, fruits, and other whole foods, so by eating more of these foods in place of salty processed foods, you can increase potassium and reduce sodium simultaneously.
The bottom line is, eating heart-healthy isn’t very hard. February is American Heart Month; it’s a perfect time to reevaluate your heart-healthy diet.


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