As many of you know, February is National Heart Month. Since this is the last week, I thought I should leave you with a few things to consider as you take care of your heart.
There are several key dietary components to keeping your heart healthy: eating plenty of fiber, eating plenty of high potassium foods (unless you are on a potassium sparing diuretic, in which case you need to AVOID excess dietary potassium), limiting high sodium foods, limiting your consumption of saturated fats, avoiding trans fats, and including plenty of unsaturated fats.
Fiber can be found in a variety of foods, including all types of fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains such as brown or wild rice, oatmeal, whole wheat products, other grains such as quinoa, amaranth, kamut, spelt, etc., and all types of beans.
Many fruits and vegetables are also high in potassium, such as apricots, oranges, cantaloupe, bananas, tomato sauces, potatoes, avocado, etc.
Saturated fats are primarily in animal sources of food, such as full fat dairy and all types of meats. However, some plant sources also contain saturated fat, such as coconut, palm, and palm kernel oil. Saturated fats raise both HDL (“good”) and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, so it does not need to be AVOIDED, but rather consumed in moderation. Between 7 and 10% of your daily calories may come from saturated fat.
Trans fat is the absolute worst type of fat; it not only lowers your HDL, but also raises your LDL! This is found primarily in processed foods. Look for “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oil in the list of ingredients. That indicates the product contains trans fat. Keep in mind that a product may state it has “0 Trans Fat” if the serving size has less than 0.5 grams. In this case, you may still see partially hydrogenated oils listed in the ingredients, but as long as you limit you portions so that you do not consume more than 2 grams total per day, you will limit your risk of lowering your HDL and increasing your LDL.
Unsaturated fats can be mono- or polyunsaturated fats. Ideally, your diet would consume 10% or more mono- and 10% polyunsaturated fats. All types of nuts and seeds, nut butters, olives, avocados, and oils such as canola are high in these types of fats. Seafood is also high in mono and polyunsaturated fats, which makes it different than other types of meats. Fish in particular is high in Omega 3 fats, which are called “essential” fats, and are one of the types of polyunsaturated fats that we need for heart health.
In addition to these dietary components, be sure that you also get plenty of physical exercise as well to keep your heart strong. Doing “aerobic” type exercise lowers blood pressure and your resting heart rate.