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Are you eating a heart-y diet?

What you eat can have a big impact on your heart health


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March 16, 2017

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Eating healthy does more than just keep you in shape. It can have a positive (or negative!) impact on some vital organs, including your heart. With heart disease being the number one killer for men and women in the U.S., it’s important to have a heart-healthy diet.

Dr. Andrew J.K. Smith, a cardiologist at Methodist Hospital, has been researching how diet relates to our cardiovascular well-being. We spoke to him to learn more about how what we eat can affect our heart health.

What foods are best for a healthy heart?

Minimally processed foods have the clear advantage for a healthy heart. Foods you can recognize are my favorites. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains should be the basis of your meals. Foods with monounsaturated oils (olives and nuts) have very encouraging data and taste great. In fact, a recent study on the Mediterranean diet showed the best results in people who added olive oil and walnuts to their diet.

How does what we eat make our heart healthier?

The whole cardiovascular system benefits from receiving energy through the foods we eat, so we need to enjoy great meals. But many processed foods contain things we don’t need. The body tries to process or store things it does not recognize or does not need to use. Much of the heart risk appears to come from the inflammation and changes caused by making the body deal with this unnecessary stuff.

Are there certain foods to avoid to keep our heart healthy?

Avoiding tobacco is still heart healthy goal number one. Avoiding partially hydrogenated oils (trans-fats) is easier with the recent FDA ban. But, I like to encourage people to try new fruit and vegetable dishes prepared at home. Recipes on the yumPower website often provide great inspiration for me.

In your research, you discuss seeing better heart health and longer life expectancy in people who eat a Mediterranean diet. Why do you think that is?

The Mediterranean diet is well studied and has great published outcomes. For most people, it is worth trying a diet favoring olive oil, nuts, whole grains and vegetables. Fish and poultry are favored over red meats. Even dairy products are discouraged. But remember, in all of these studies there were lifestyle changes recommended as well such as exercise and stress reduction.

Can heart health impact life expectancy?

Yes. A heart healthy diet combined with other healthy lifestyle changes (like regular exercise) has been associated with as much as a 75 percent reduction in the risk of coronary artery disease.

What diet tips can we do right away to help our heart?

Adding or replacing oil in your diet with olive oil and consumption of 30 grams of nuts per day as an alternative snack looks like a great place to start.

Learn more about heart health here:

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