It used to be that the primary concern for many humans was getting enough to eat. Now, the scales have tipped in the other direction, and much of this country’s and the world’s population eat too much. Especially too much of the wrong thing.
The modern diet is calorie-rich and nutrient-poor which is not only doing a disservice to our waistlines, but our collective heart health is suffering as well. In fact, nearly half of Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease, with hypertension and high cholesterol leading the charge.
In this month’s blog post, Dr. Satjit Bhusri and the team here at Upper East Side Cardiology want to focus on ways you can improve your cardiovascular health through your diet. As preventive practices go, making some tweaks to what you eat is one of the most powerful ways to avoid heart disease.
Let’s take a look.
Foods that harm your cardiovascular health
We’re going to approach this topic from two different angles, starting with substances that may cause harm to your heart, including unhealthy fats and processed foods.
Understanding fats is important, and it’s not as simple as saying some types are bad and others are good. However, certain types may contribute to cholesterol issues that can lead to dangerous plaque buildup in your blood vessels.
The fats that are nothing but trouble are the synthetic trans fats, which are found in hydrogenated oils. These raise cholesterol levels in your blood and leave you vulnerable to atherosclerosis. Store-bought baked goods, many processed foods, and some fast foods contain these trans fats.
Too much saturated fat can also contribute to heart disease. While meat products and dairy contribute much, over one-third of the saturated fat in the American diet comes from junk foods and desserts, such as cake, ice cream, fries, pizza, and chips.
The typical American diet includes an abundance of processed foods that contain a lot of sodium. Some people may be more sensitive to sodium, including older adults, African Americans, and those with diabetes, kidney disease, or high blood pressure. Consuming too much sodium can raise blood pressure in sodium-sensitive individuals.
Processed meats, like bologna, hot dogs, and sausage, contain not only sodium, but also saturated fats and chemical additives like nitrate that are not conducive to good health.
Sodium isn’t the only issue though. Many types of processed foods contain excess sugar and calories which can contribute to obesity, another risk for heart disease.
Foods that support heart health
Once you reduce sodium and unhealthy fats from your diet, it's important to include healthier foods that keep your heart and blood vessels working well.
A balanced diet is one that includes:
- Whole grains
- Lean meats
Grass-fed beef and dairy can also be part of a heart-healthy diet because the fat composition is healthier than from conventionally raised cattle.
When it comes to portion sizes and recommended daily servings, we invite you to explore myplate.gov, which has plenty of information on healthy eating.
Switching your dietary habits
It's all well and good for us to say, “Eat this instead of that,” but changing your eating habits can be tricky. To get started, perhaps just swap out one thing at a time, such as eating an apple instead of a cookie or munching on a handful of nuts instead of french fries.
To cut down on processed food, look for foods that are as close to their original forms as possible. For example, white bread has been refined, whereas 100% whole wheat or whole grain breads are somewhat closer to their grain origins.
Remember, our bodies are designed for single-ingredient foods that deliver the nutrients we need, and nothing we don’t.
There are many different ways to look at eating healthy, and we’re happy to help you find one that works best for you.
If you want to learn more about eating your way to better heart health, please contact our New York City office on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to schedule a visit. You can also call (212) 752-3464.