“You are what you eat” or “food is medicine,” are two phrases you may have heard before. In our age of broad access to medications, it’s easy to overlook the power of diet in the prevention of chronic diseases like heart disease. While some of us may require more than dietary interventions to manage our health conditions, we can all benefit from using food as part of our health plan. In some cases, it what we eat that matters most, while in other cases it’s what we avoid that helps us manage risk. As February is heart month, it’s a great time to focus on the role of diet in heart disease prevention.
Saturated fat is significantly aligned with heart disease and is the type of fat we should limit or avoid to lower risk of coronary artery disease. Primarily found in meats, high fat dairy and some processed foods, saturated fat is associated with clogged arteries and increased risk of heart disease. Please note that while some forms of saturated fat (like coconut) are different from that found in meats and dairy, it’s still not considered to be part of a heart healthy diet.
While we used to think that dietary cholesterol was directly related to the cholesterol measured in our blood, we now know that these different types of cholesterol are not directly linked. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which eliminated the upper limit of 300mg/day for dietary cholesterol, notes that while we shouldn’t over consume foods rich in cholesterol, this is more because these foods are generally also rich in saturated fat and not because of the cholesterol itself. Rather, current guidance suggests that it’s ok to include nutrient rich foods like eggs or shrimp into our diet, despite their cholesterol content.
While we usually think of sugar as being associated with diabetes, it’s important to recognize its role in heart disease, too. A diet high in sugar is associated with obesity and, according to the American Heart Association, added sugar (in particular) is aligned with greater risk of death from heart disease.
Salt sneaks into our diet through packaged and prepared foods. The current recommended daily value for sodium is 2300mg/day (less for those at greater risk of heart disease), but most of us far exceed this recommendation, which increases our risk for chronic elevated blood pressure. Use the nutrition facts panel on packaged foods to monitor how much sodium you consume throughout your day.
A diet high in soluble fiber from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, as well as nuts, beans and lentils, is beneficial for reducing cholesterol levels and lowering risk of heart disease. Fiber also serves to control appetite, which assists with reaching and maintaining an ideal body weight, as well as controlling blood sugar.
Omega 3 Fats
Omega 3 fats, found in fish and seafood, are aligned with decreased inflammation and reduced risk of stroke, irregular heartbeats and triglyceride levels. The American Heart Association recommends consuming fish twice per week. Aim for choices lower in mercury such as shrimp, canned light tuna, and salmon.
If you have questions about dietary changes you can make to lower your risk of heart disease or other diet related health conditions, reach out to me, your Pawling Hannaford Dietitian. Visit www.Hannaford.com, or call (845) 855-0553 for more information.
Guiding Stars nutrition guidance program is the ideal shopping partner for a heart healthy diet. Learn more (and find great recipes like the ones below!) at www.guidingstars.com.
Honey-Thyme Salmon Foil Packets (2 Guiding Stars)
2 Tbsp. honey
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
2 lbs. salmon
Preheat oven to 375º F. Line a baking sheet with foil.
Whisk together honey, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and thyme.
Place salmon onto the foil and fold up the sides. Spoon the honey over the fish and fold the packet closed.
Bake until cooked through, 15 – 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
Parmesan-Thyme Mushrooms (1 Guiding Star)
Make these mushrooms with the extra thyme you have on hand!
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs. cremini mushrooms, quartered
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
⅓ cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme
½ cup Parmesan, grated
Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add mushrooms, and sear until the bottoms are well-browned, 2 – 3 minutes.
Season with the salt and pepper and cook, stirring once or twice, until the mushrooms are browned all over, 5 – 6 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Pour in the wine and stir, scraping up the browned bits.
Cook the wine off, 1 – 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the thyme and cheese.