Keeping Your Heart Healthy

You are what you eat

Dr. Russell Greenfield is a physician who’s interested in helping people maintain healthy hearts. There are some really simple approaches to getting your heart healthy and maintaining its health, and they have to do with what you eat.

So it’s difficult to navigate and understand all the options out there, and it’s sometimes difficult to tell what is really good for you and what’s not. Different foods advertise themselves as healthy when they’re not, and it’s easy to go astray amid conflicting marketing claims.

Don’t give up too much

The thing is, there are no foods that you need to be afraid of. If you eat something that isn’t good for you once in a blue moon, then you’re fine. This is about developing healthy eating habits that will last you a lifetime.

In other words, look at it this way: there are some foods that you should eat less often than others. Does this mean that you have to cut them out of your life altogether? No; of course not. For example, one of the foods to avoid is animal protein like red meat. Does that mean you can never, ever enjoy a steak again? That’s only true if you decide to become a vegetarian! Having a steak once every couple of months is fine; having one every night is not.

More fats

Another category to cut back on is another animal protein that you probably don’t think of as a protein: whole-milk dairy products. A little fat goes a long way in your diet, and that’s true of full-fat milk, cream, butter, and so on. Once in a while? Sure. Every day? Not so much.

If you can, avoid consuming trans fats altogether; they increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. But how can you tell what foods contain trans fats, and which don’t? The best way to avoid trans fats is to read food labels.

More things to put on your watch list: you really do want to minimize your sodium intake. Salt contributes to high blood pressure. In the same way, cut back on fried foods and highly processed high-sugar snacks. A doughnut once a month will work; doughnuts in the morning and fried chicken in the evening? There’s a recipe for disaster!

So what’s good to eat?

Let’s move away from what you shouldn’t have and talk, instead, about which foods contribute to a healthy heart. It’s a great idea to take our cues from cultures that eat healthy foods. The first of these are the Asian cultures, which emphasize fresh fish, fresh vegetables, limited starches and almost no animal proteins. Develop a taste for sushi: it’s good for you!

Like the Asian diet, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes fresh vegetables and cold-water fish (Alaskan salmon and sardines, known for their omega-3 fatty acids).

To go with the fish, select whole grains like brown rice and buckwheat: they’re really, really good for you. Both have a special fiber in them that lowers cholesterol. And you should cultivate a regular enjoyment of brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Their different colors indicate that they’re rich in different nutrients, thus providing you with a balanced intake of vitamins and nutrients.

Want a snack? Raw nuts are high in fiber and nutrients and make a good snack. Dark berries, like blueberries, are excellent snacks.