Some of us look at our health like a Blackjack table. The cards are diseases and we are forced to play the hand dealt. If the dealer throws down the card of heart disease, then, well, there’s not much we can do about it.
The “dealer” is our genetics, but new areas of science, called “epigenetics” and “nutrigenomics” reveal we are more like “dealers” in our health outcomes. Yes, genetic predisposition is one risk factor, but studies show lifestyle choices are more powerful. It is especially true when considering heart disease. Because it is “heart” month, I’ve outlined a few principles of nutrition to help readers prevent or reverse heart disease.
Of course, other lifestyle choices can help strategize a better hand: exercise, good dental health and stress reduction. The Interheart Study, published in the Lancet in 2004, followed 30,000 people and found changing lifestyle could prevent at least 90 percent of all heart disease.
I consider that good news—both of my parents died in their early 50s, and my father died from heart disease. I always said because of genetics, “I’m heart disease and diabetes ready to happen.” Thankfully, because of lifestyle choices, primarily diet, I will not become another statistic.
Following is dietary advice to help stack the “health” deck in your favor. It is truly the best Valentine I could offer.
1. Lower carbohydrates in all forms. Lowering our carbohydrate load (especially the “white” ones) is a key preventive measure. Most understand when we eliminate or drastically lower white flour, rice, sugar, sugary drinks, and processed foods, we lower our risk for heart disease. However, we need to lower good carbs as well.
One of my patients eats a “clean” diet, which does not include junk or fast food. She does consume a lot of fruit and whole grains. So she could not understand why her doctor diagnosed her with pre-diabetes (a significant risk factor for heart disease).
When we looked closer, I found she was an “insulin metabolism” like me. She needed to reduce all carbohydrates—even the good ones. It surprised her.
Excessive carbohydrates drive down good cholesterol and cause triglycerides to increase. It also causes blood sugar issues (pre-diabetes) and creates small damaging cholesterol particles.
2. Consume good fats and reduce bad fats. Fat is not our enemy. Some fats are heart protective and include omega 3 fatty acids (oily fish, flax, nuts) and monounsaturated fatty acids (olive and avocado oils, nuts and olives, to name a few).
Other than hydrogenated oils (trans fats that will soon be out of our food supply), the most deadly fats to heart health are the omega 6 polyunsaturated oils, like corn, vegetable, safflower, sunflower, canola (except high oleic), and soybean oils. Yes, we were told these oils were “heart healthy,” but they are a deadly Valentine. Our hearts are not happy when we consume excessive amounts.
3. Yes! Consume foods with cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol shows no correlation to heart disease. Good news: Shrimp is fine to eat (as long as it’s wild caught). Eggs are wonderful for the heart.
4. Enjoy high quality, “clean” protein, but it should be limited. Protein helps with satiety and blood-sugar control. Fish, turkey, chicken, lamb, pork, beef, nuts, beans, and tofu are good choices. “Clean” protein—the best kind—means it’s organic, hormone and antibiotic free, and/or grassfed and free-range.
Grass-fed beef and pork contain substantially more omega 3 fatty acids, as well as heart- and waist-line-healthy conjugated linoleic acid, which isn’t in conventionally processed meat. Reduce or eliminate conventionally processed meats.
Unfortunately, too much protein creates an insulin response in the body (drives up blood sugars), which is anything but heart healthy. I advise women to no more than 4 to 6 ounces of protein per meal and men no more than 6 to 8 ounces.
5. Eat more high-fiber foods. We can all benefit from more fiber. Recently, scientists increased the ideal amount from 50 to 70 grams per day. What is the best way to consume fiber? Lower sugar (glycemic) veggies like artichokes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and leafy greens. To increase fiber intake, I also put many of my patients on a natural fiber supplement, consisting of soluble and insoluble fiber.
Newer studies show the reason fiber is so important, it because it is “prebiotic”—or it feeds the good bacteria in our guts. A high diversity and quantity of beneficial bacteria is linked with healthy weight and hearts.
6. Consume more colorful, low-glycemic vegetables that don’t significantly raise blood sugar. They contain disease-fighting phytonutrients, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and anti-inflammatory molecules. Aim for 7 to 10 servings per day. No, that wasn’t a typo—the more, the better. A serving is one-half cup of cooked or raw, or one cup of leafy greens.
Take heart: We aren’t victims of our genes! We possess the power to incorporate life-changing and heart healthy habits that give us a winning hand against disease.
“Wow—just wow! I thought I was healthier than most my age, despite a slew of problems—lymphoma, hypothyroidism, asymptomatic coronary artery disease, and five stents. I mean, I exercise a lot and cook healthy. I saw Lindy on the advice of my cardiologist. Her suggestions and nutrition plan for me improved my cardiac lab results,and I have lost weight to boot! No more minor aches and pains! More energy!
Lindy listens, advises, and coaches on an individual basis. Her suggestions are very doable, easily adapted into my everyday busyness, traveling or eating out. I am very pleased I made this commitment for myself with Lindy.” —Jody L.
Want to learn more life changing, health info? Subscribe to Lindy’s YouTube Channel: Lindy Ford Nutrition & Wellness. Like her nutrition Facebook page and follow her on Twitter (@lindywellness) and Instagram (lindyford12). Lindy Ford, RD, LDN is registered dietitian & clinical nutritionist. She runs a private practice in Wilmington. Website: lindyfordwellness.com. Phone: 910.899.7945. Email: [email protected]