Economic Backbone: Cardiac Care
Do's and don'ts for a healthy heart diet from a TGH nutrition specialist
Alexandra Fucarino, a clinical nutrition specialist at Tampa General Hospital, spoke to FLORIDA TREND about how diet can impact heart health.
Heart Healthy Foods: “A great way to improve our heart health is to incorporate more fiber into our diet. Focusing on foods that are high in fiber can not only help to lower our cholesterol but also help us maintain a healthy weight since fiber keeps us full for longer and helps us feel more satisfied. In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes are a great way to increase our fiber intake. A good tip would be to try to swap out refined grains in meals (like white bread, white rice and white pasta) and replace them with high fiber choices like 100% whole wheat bread, brown rice or even experiment with more exotic choices like quinoa or farro.”
Bad Food Choices: “It’s a good idea to limit foods high in saturated fat, including beef, pork and lamb as well as full-fat dairy products. We know that saturated fat can raise our cholesterol levels and increase our risk of heart disease.
Another tip would be to try to avoid the addition of table salt to our foods during cooking and after preparation. Table salt is high in sodium, which, if we eat too much of, can increase our risk of high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. To put that in perspective, one teaspoon of table salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Try fresh or dried herbs, spices, vinegar or lemon juice to add flavor instead of salt.”
Good Fats vs. Bad Fats: “Choose foods with less than 2 grams per serving of saturated fat. A person who needs to eat 2,000 calories per day should eat no more than 11 to 15 grams of saturated fat in one day. It’s also a good idea to avoid trans fats, and you want to pick foods that have 0 grams of trans fat. Trans fats have been shown to raise our LDL (bad) cholesterol. Even if a food has less than half a gram per serving, the label may still say trans fat-free. Be sure to read ingredients listed on the label. If a food contains partially hydrogenated oils, then it has trans fat. Some healthy fats to include in your diet are omega-3 fatty acids. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and albacore tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lower triglycerides and decrease our risk of heart disease, so these would be good options to replace red meat with. In addition to oily fish, you can get omega-3 fatty acids from plant foods like ground flaxseeds, pumpkin and chia seeds, walnuts and soybean and canola oil.”
Diets: “A common pitfall I see with not just heart patients but many patients with chronic diseases is following fad diets. Fad diets that promise quick weight loss and sound too good to be true usually are. Fasts, cleanses and detoxes can promote rapid weight loss but can also cause rapid changes in vitamin levels like potassium, phosphorous, magnesium and copper, which all play an important role in heart contraction. Being too low in these vitamins and minerals can increase the risk of heart attack and irregular heartbeat. In addition, some lower-carb diets for weight loss may contain excess amounts of red meat and butter, which can increase cholesterol levels due to the saturated fat content. The best diet for heart health is one that’s both sustainable and balanced. A predominantly plant-based diet that emphasizes green, leafy vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruit is where the best improvements are seen in heart health.”