What You Eat Really Can Improve Heart Health

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While I KNOW that choosing heart-healthy foods (along with exercise) can naturally lower cholesterol and improve health, it’s startling when you see it in action.

A new breakfast routine has reduced my blood pressure in a matter of weeks. I now eat Overnight No-Cook Refrigerator Oatmeal (easy and delicious) instead of the 1/2 whole-wheat bagel with a smidge of cream cheese and 1 slice of lox that was my daily breakfast for years. Though I knew 1 small slice of lox packed 1/3-1/2 of the recommended maximum daily serving of sodium (and even posted about it vs oatmeal), I ate it anyway, justifying the salt intake because lox has heart-healthy omega 3s. But my blood pressure was rising and to avoid medication I had to really cut salt.

When I stopped eating lox daily, my blood pressure quickly fell to normal levels. This shocked me, and yet it shouldn’t have—because what you eat and how much you move really can change your health.

With my blood pressure back in normal range, it’s a good time for a reminder about foods to help lower cholesterol. For a pretty full explanation my book, The Low Cholesterol Cookbook and Action Plan: 4 Weeks to Cut Cholesterol and Improve Heart Health contains an entire segment called Eating Your Way to Lower Cholesterol which includes What Not To Eat, along with What To Eat: Foods That Lower Cholesterol, and several pages on how to Fight Fiber with Cholesterol.

If you don’t want to buy/read a book, a good quick online resource is Medical News Today’s article, Foods to Avoid with High Cholesterol. It explains that avoiding foods with high dietary cholesterol is no longer considered important (it’s avoiding foods with saturated and trans fats that’s key). As well, this article cites a study of 344,696 people 4 to 10 years after they changed the kinds of fats they ate. Published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the group who cut their saturated fat intake by 5 percent and replaced it with polyunsaturated fats had significantly fewer incidences of coronary illness or coronary-related death.

Eating heart-healthy (limiting saturated fat and cutting trans fat) can and does reduce your heart disease risk!

So what foods are high in unhealthy saturated fat, and which have healthy polyunsaturated fat? Medical News Today’s article had this simple explanation:

“It is important to pay attention to the types of fat consumed, as each form of fat influences cholesterol levels differently:

  • Saturated fats are found mostly in meats and dairy products. They signal the liver to produce more bad cholesterol.
  • Unsaturated fats are found mostly in fish, and plants, such as nuts, seeds, beans, and vegetable oils. Certain unsaturated fats can help increase the rate at which the liver reabsorbs and breaks down bad cholesterol.
  • Trans fats are solidified vegetable oils, and are usually made through an artificial process called hydrogenation. They are often found in fried, bakery and packaged foods. They not only lead to increased bad cholesterol levels, but also lower levels of good cholesterol. For this reason, they are considered the unhealthiest fats of all.”

The article goes on to list foods the American Heart Association, in The Skinny on Fats, recommends to eat and to avoid.  The AHA recommends a maximum of 11-13 grams of saturated fat per day (2,000 calorie diet). Medical News Today’s article had an easy-to-read list of foods to limit and avoid:

Foods To Avoid / Limit to 11-13 grams daily – Saturated Fat

  • fatty beef
  • lamb
  • pork
  • poultry with skin
  • lard and shortening
  • dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat milk
  • saturated vegetable oils, such as coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil

Foods To Avoid Entirely – Trans Fats:

  • packaged cookies, cakes, doughnuts, and pastries
  • potato chips and crackers
  • packaged frosting
  • commercially fried foods
  • bakery goods that contain shortening
  • buttered popcorn
  • any products that contain partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated vegetable oils

Limiting foods with saturated fat (and avoiding foods with trans fats) can lower your cholesterol and improve your heart health. Whether you are taking statin medication or are able to lower your cholesterol naturally, limiting saturated fat is one key to a healthier heart.

 

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