The number one cause of death in the United States is heart disease. A number of factors impact your heart health, one main one being your nutrition. So, let’s talk about sustainable, colorful, and delicious things YOU can do to improve your heart health with Avance Care Registered Dietitian, Nicole Golinski. Let’s explore!
A Dietitian’s Tips to Improving Your Heart Health
Have you ever heard of the importance of making your plate look like the rainbow? One reason that this is important is because colorful foods contain phytochemicals. These phytochemicals are found naturally in plants and have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which are beneficial for heart health. (1)
Next time you are eating red cabbage, blackberries, or concord grapes you will be consuming anthocyanin a power antioxidant which protects against heart disease. (2) Additionally, don’t forget to eat spinach and kale as these contain lutein which has been shown to be protective against heart disease and diabetes. (2)
Can I just take a supplement with these phytochemicals? Unfortunately, no. Research suggests that digesting these phytochemicals from a supplement form does not have the same beneficial properties compared to eating the whole food. (1)
There are two main types of fiber: soluble and insoluble fiber. Most foods contain a mixture of both. When consumed, soluble fiber creates a gel like substance which is beneficial in reducing cholesterol and aiding in fullness. Foods that are higher in soluble fiber include: oats, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
Ways to add more soluble fiber in your diet:
- Incorporate overnight oats to your morning breakfast. Try adding a sprinkle of flaxseeds, nuts and berries for some added fiber and a scoop of non-fat plain Greek yogurt on top of your oatmeal.
- Add barley or whole wheat pasta to soup instead of white rice or enriched white pasta.
- Wheat bran is very high in soluble fiber – try sprinkling bran on top of your oatmeal, Greek yogurt, soup, or smoothie.
- Want to incorporate more beans in your diet? Make a morning burrito with low sodium black beans, scrambled eggs, roasted vegetables on a whole wheat or corn tortilla. Add a dollop of low-sodium salsa and avocado for some additional flavor!
When thinking about incorporating fats into your diet, it is important to recognize that all fats are not created equal.
We want to reduce this from our diet as this can increase the LDL (“bad” cholesterol). (3) Saturated fats are found in full fat dairy products (i.e. cheese, ice cream, full fat cow’s milk), coconut/palm oil, red meat and pork. Try to select items with less than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving.
We want to eliminate these from our diet, because trans fat can increase the LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and decrease the HDL (“good” cholesterol). (3) We can find trans fat in processed baked goods, cakes, frozen pizza, non-dairy coffee creamers, and fried foods. Ensure that your food does not have trans fat by looking for “partially hydrogenated oils” in the ingredients list.
Try consuming unsaturated fats instead of saturated and trans fat
One kind of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 fats. Omega-3s are beneficial because they have been shown to decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure and decrease inflammation. (3) They can be found in salmon, albacore tuna, walnuts, canola oil, ground flax seed and pumpkin seeds
Monounsaturated fats also considered heart healthy. The Mediterranean diet is notoriously high in these fats and have lower rates of heart disease. Sources of monounsaturated fat include: olive oil, avocado, almonds.
Ways to incorporate these into your diet
- Sprinkle sliced almonds on top of your oatmeal or yogurt
- Try salmon cakes for dinner instead of hamburgers
- Mix avocados into egg/chicken salad instead of mayo
However, watch your portion sizes when incorporating these fats, as they are high in calories.
- Olive oil (one serving: 1 tsp)
- Avocados (one serving: 2 tbsp or ¼ avocado)
- Almonds (one serving: 6 almonds)
- Ground Flaxseed (one serving: 2 tbsp)
- Walnuts (one serving: 4 halves)
- Pumpkin Seeds (one serving: 1 tbsp)
When we talk about heart health, movement is another important part of the puzzle. Movement has many wonderful benefits, but related to heart health, it has been shown to decrease LDL (“bad” cholesterol), increase HDL (“good” cholesterol) and improve blood pressure (4). Additionally, getting extra steps during the day can help to maintain a healthy body weight.
If you are hoping to increase your movement, it is important to remember two things:
- Find something you enjoy! When starting to increase movement, it is vital to find exercise that is enjoyable to you. This will help make it sustainable. Examples of fun movement include Zumba/dancing, exploring a local park, pickleball, seated chair exercises, and hula hooping.
- Start small – The American Heart Association encourages 150 minutes of moderate intensity movement per week; however, this does not need to be your starting point. Make a goal that is achievable for you and build upon this. For example, see if you can incorporate a 20-minute walk 3 days/week. Once you’ve mastered this, increase the intensity (i.e. use light hand weights or walk more hills) and increase the duration (i.e. walk for 30 minutes for 4 days/week)
Make 2023 the year to start making lifestyle and dietary changes to improve your heart! If you are interested in exploring other ways to further improve your heart health book an appointment online with a dietitian or call our Avance Care Nutrition at 919.237.1337, option 4 today.
- Liu RH. Potential synergy of phytochemicals in cancer prevention: Mechanism of action. The Journal of Nutrition. 2004;134(12):3479S–3485S. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/134.12.3479S
- Zhang YJ, Gan RY, Li S, et al. Antioxidant phytochemicals for the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases. Molecules. 2015;20(12):21138-21156. Available from: doi:10.3390/molecules201219753.
- American Heart Association. (2022, July 21). Dietary fats. www.heart.org. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/dietary-fats
- Barone Gibbs, B., Hivert, M.-F., Jerome, G. J., Kraus, W. E., Rosenkranz, S. K., Schorr, E. N., Spartano, N. L., & Lobelo, F. (2021). Physical activity as a critical component of first-line treatment for elevated blood pressure or cholesterol: Who, what, and how?: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Hypertension, 78(2). https://doi.org/10.1161/hyp.0000000000000196