Heart Healthy Nutrition
The foundation of eating a heart healthy diet is in choosing healthy fats. Healthy fats can increase “good” cholesterol (HDL) and help change “bad” cholesterol (LDL) to a safer, benign type. In the past, it was advised to limit dietary cholesterol, but this recommendation has been recently lifted. In addition, it's now suggested that in the majority of the population, saturated fat may not be as harmful as previously believed. Foods like full-fat dairy, eggs, and butter may actually be healthful and nutritious in the context of a wholesome diet emphasizing minimally processed real foods. Conversely, minimizing unhealthy fats, such as hydrogenated oils, and highly processed vegetable oils is very important for preventing heart disease. Eating excess vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils can damage cholesterol particles. Damaged cholesterol particles cause inflammation and are likely a major contributor to heart disease.
Use the following guidelines to maximize good cholesterol and keep your heart healthy:
- Decrease Vegetable Oils & Hydrogenated Oils
- Eat Less Refined Vegetable Oil
Refined oils cause inflammation and damage in the body and are found in most processed and packaged foods.
Limit the following:
- Vegetable oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Soybean oil
- Safflower oil
- Sunflower oil
- Corn oil
- Canola oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Margarine (all types)
- Fried foods
- Store-bought salad dressings
Use these healthier oils instead:
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Refined coconut oil
- Ghee (clarified butter)
- Lard, tallow (beef fat), duck fat or chicken fat (non-hydrogenated varieties)
- Peanut oil (sparingly)
- Homemade salad dressing from olive oil and vinegar
- Eliminate Hydrogenated Oils
Hydrogenated oils are man-made fats that seriously damage the body, even in very small amounts. They will eventually be banned from the food supply, but they are still found in certain brands of some products. Strive to eliminate hydrogenated oils from your diet. Read the ingredient list to find products with hydrogenated oils.
Look for these key words and try to find products that do not list them on the ingredients list:
- Hydrogenated oil
- Partially hydrogenated oil
- Mono– and di-glycerides
Hydrogenated oils are commonly found in certain brands of the following products:
- Stick margarine
- Bakery products
- Packaged foods
- Microwave popcorn
- Peanut butter
- Choose Minimally Refined, Natural Fats
- Eat More Omega-3s
Omega-3 fats prevent heart disease and cancer. Eat a high proportion of Omega-3 fats compared to Omega-6 fats (found in vegetable oils).
Omega-3s are found in:
- Fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, mackerel)
- Meat, eggs, butter, and full-fat dairy from pastured and grass-fed animals
- Chia seeds
- Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
- Walnuts and walnut oil (Do not use flaxseed or walnut oils for cooking. Use for salad dressings and cold preparations only.)
- Cod liver oil and fish oil supplements
- Eat More Natural Fats
Natural, unrefined fats protect the body against oxidative damage by improving cholesterol quality (increases particle size and HDL-cholesterol).
Choose these types of fats most often:
- Fresh meats (not preserved/salted)
- Whole eggs
- Dairy (butter, cheese, milk, sour cream, yogurt, kefir)
- Nuts, seeds, and natural nut butters like peanut butter, almond butter, and cashew butter
- Coconut oil (Choose “refined” versions for a tasteless cooking oil as a substitute for vegetable oils.)
- Olive oil, avocado oil, walnut oil
- Butter and ghee (clarified butter)
- Lard, tallow (beef fat), duck fat, or chicken fat (not hydrogenated varieties)
- Decrease Refined Carbohydrate
The second important part of eating well for heart health is in minimizing refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates like white flour and added sugars increase fat (triglycerides) in the bloodstream and change cholesterol in the body into a dangerous sub-type that can contribute to heart disease.
Make these changes to help keep your carbohydrate intake healthy and your triglyceride levels in check:
- Choose small amounts of natural sweeteners like stevia, honey, and maple syrup.
- Enjoy dessert as an occasional treat, but always pair it with healthy fat/protein to slow a spike in blood sugar.
- Instead of white flour products use whole grain, traditional sourdough, spelt, or sprouted grain products (like Ezekiel bread).
- For a starchy side dish, enjoy small servings of potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, peas, corn, lentils, bulgur, quinoa, couscous, or rice.
- Limit: Sugary cereals, soda, juice, chips, starchy/salty snacks, sugar-sweetened beverages, and excess alcohol (no more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day)
- Eat Wholesome, Nutrient Dense Foods
Suboptimal vitamin and mineral intake is a major contributor to heart disease. In particular, high intake of the vitamin K-2, is an important way to prevent heart disease, since its primary job is keeping calcium in the bones where it belongs and out of blood vessels where it can cause heart disease. Vitamin K-2 is found in high amounts in grass-fed and pastured animal fats, like free range eggs, gourmet cheese, butter from grass-fed cows, organic whole milk, full-fat yogurt, and kefir.
Foods rich in Vitamin K-2 include the following:
- Free range eggs
- Gourmet cheeses
- Butter from pastured cows
- Organic whole milk
- Organic full-fat yogurt
- Meats from pastured and grass-fed animals
- Pick Proteins Wisely
Eating high protein foods like meat and dairy are a great way to feel full longer, keep muscles strong, and round out a healthy diet. Limit processed and salted meats like bacon, turkey bacon, and luncheon meats, and eat moderate amounts of fresh meats like beef, pork, and chicken. Mix up your protein intake by eating homemade chicken and beef stocks, organ meats, and meat cooked on the bone. Eggs and dairy are great, inexpensive sources of protein for any meal.
- Stay Physically Active
Try to participate in 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity at least 5 days a week. Physical activity has been shown to help improve the type of cholesterol in your body to a safe, protective type. Even just standing and moving around more frequently decreases the fat in your bloodstream and risk of heart disease. Easy ways to increase your physical activity are parking further away, playing with your kids or grandkids, cooking, walking around a store once before shopping, biking, swimming, lifting weights, or taking walks. Even just 10 minutes of exercise per day has been shown to improve physical condition, so get moving and get healthy!