Heart Healthy Diet Part II

By Warren Selkow, Patient and life long overeater

In Part I on Heart Healthy Diet we wrote about the bad stuff and the worst part about it is we didn't even really start to scratch the surface of the problem. For instance, we didn't even begin to write about the problem of eating out. We will eventually tackle that issue on another page on this site. Eventually there will be a lot of content about diet and nutrition on this site.

In fact, there will probably be so much stuff about diet and nutrition on this site you might become bored with it all. I know I have a tendency to nod off when I am continually beaten over the head about what I am or am not eating. When it comes to food I have a bad attitude. I really like to eat (qu' elle surprise) and after learning how to eat avoiding salt, fat and sugar (I am not diabetic but I still avoid sugar) I can safely say eating can still be very enjoyable. You have to adapt and that means you have to adopt a different lifestyle of eating.

Why so much on diet and nutrition? The sad truth is diet is the reason so many people suffer from such serious heart disease. We eat so much high fat, bad fat food, our poor veins and arteries just clog up. The super rich high cholesterol diet packs on the pounds and our blood pressure escalates right along with our weight. The first words out of a cardiologist's mouth after, "You have heart disease," are, "Go on a diet." A major change in diet to a heart healthy diet is one of the easier things to do and one of the things that will start to help you get better.

Heart Healthy Diet Yeses

Adaptation 1: Eating a minimum of five fresh vegetables and fruit a day is a great and easy first step in adopting a heart healthy diet. The very best recommendation is to eat a piece of fruit for snacks and dessert instead of sweets. The benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables go on and on. Here is a short list:

  • Your digestive track will thank you. Fresh fruit and vegetables (especially raw) are high in fiber and fiber is a natural abrasive for your gut. After having heart surgery regularity becomes a quest. The drugs you are given will work in your stomach and intestines like fast drying cement. The result is a headache and grumpiness. High fiber foods will keep the headache and grumpiness away.
  • You will sleep better as you will not have a logy feeling and the generally lethargic feeling that comes with eating rich food.
  • The body with the exception of potatoes uses fruit and vegetable sugars very quickly. Spuds are a very dense starch carbohydrate and although easily converted to energy, they are likewise easily converted to fat. Of course, you do know that everybody’s favorite French fries are now a complete no-no.

Adaptation 2: Adopt and use high-density lipid fats like olive and canola oils and change your methods of cooking to steaming, sautéing and broiling. Some hints:

  • Foods should be broiled with little or no fat instead of fried.
  • Vegetables should be steamed and eaten al dente. This method of cooking vegetables retains most of their nutrition.

Adaptation 3: For years our diets have been dependent on the very things that will kill us. Our favorite things like hamburger, hot dogs, pizza and a long list of other high calorie, high fat foods that will not help us must be reevaluated for other choices. What's for dinner tonight? It ain't beef. A heart healthy diet has only one three-ounce steak in it once a month. Come to think of it, it ain’t lamb either. If it moos or baas it is bad.

  • Replace beef with buffalo or chicken or turkey.
  • Pork is good if it is a lean cut like the boneless loin and it has been well trimmed.
  • Eat fish, especially high omega three oil fish. The fish should be broiled, stewed or sautéed with little or no fat.

Adaptation 4: Change you choice of oils and spreads.

  • Use high-density low fat oil for cooking. The best bets are olive oil and canola oil.
  • Use olive oil instead of butter. Mix the olive oil with balsamic vinegar for salad dressing or just to eat with some crusty bread.

Adaptation 5: No salt. This is a tough adaptation. Salt raises you blood pressure and over time destroys the kidneys ability to function. In The Simplified Handbook for Living with Heart Disease and Other Chronic Diseases we document all the reasons for this and we will not duplicate that material here. To kill your desire for salt you must make a very conscientious effort to avoid all the foods that have sodium as part of their ingredient list. I have found the easiest way to get over salt is to adapt and taste for other things. In my case it is hot, the hotter the better. When sweat is running into your eyes and your head tingles from the hot pepper it is hard to recall ever having a desire for salt.

That is it, only five adaptations. However, the subject of diet is like a small itch that can never be satisfied. In doing the research I found more information than I could ever use at one time. So much of it is good, that I decided to use it here. I reprint all this stuff as I found it. The type fact is different to show what I copied. I attribute where possible. Once again, I left in the links.

The next time you buy juice, yogurt, and spreads, check the ingredients label for these funny little wonder compounds: phytosterols.

Phytosterols are plant-derived compounds that help lower bad (LDL) cholesterol, and food manufacturers are adding them to more and more products -- not just margarine. Finally, a processed-food ingredient that may actually be good for you!

Plant Protection

A recent review of 84 scientific studies revealed that getting about 2 grams of phytosterols (stanols or sterols) per day, either from enriched foods or from supplements, helped lower participants' LDL by as much as 8.8 percent in most studies. Both forms of phytosterols were equally effective, and the type of food product the compound was found in didn't seem to make much difference. Find out the truth about butter substitutes.

Natural Heart Helpers

You can also get phytosterols naturally from nuts, seeds, whole grains, and plant-based cooking oils, such as olive, vegetable, canola, peanut, and sesame. And here are a few other ways you can help lower your cholesterol naturally:

  • Have a Mediterranean-style snack. Find out why hummus is so good for your heart.
  • Get your nutrients in pairs. Here’s a vitamin-mineral duo that can help lower cholesterol.
  • Turn up the heat. Steaming certain veggies can increase their cholesterol-lowering powers.

Today's roster of superfoods packs more power than an NFL lineup -- even more than the Buffalo Bills. Eat right and you can dramatically slow your rate of aging and dim your risk of disease. The trouble? Not everyone can eat these superfoods.

Whether you are allergic to nuts, don't drink wine, or would just absolutely, positively never voluntarily chew and swallow anything containing fish or flax, you're not shut out of the health benefits. Here's what to eat or drink instead:

The super food: Alcohol

Why it's good: Sipping wine or beer in moderation may reduce your odds for heart disease by more than 25%.
What to have instead: Put a plant-based "rainbow" on your table. You'll get the heart-protecting compounds in red wine -- resveratrol, quercetin, and catechins -- from blueberries, red grape juice (made totally from grapes), apples, onions, grapefruit, black tea, and even peanuts.

These compounds help prevent risky blood clots, stop free radical damage better than vitamins C and E alone, stave off heart rhythm disorders, and counter the inflammation that makes a mess of blood vessel walls. Add fish, dark chocolate, garlic, and nuts (especially walnuts) to your meals and you can cut your risk for heart disease by nearly 75% -- without a drop of the hard stuff.

The super food: Fish

Why it's good: Having fatty, nonfried fish three times a week gives your body a good squirt of omega-3 fatty acids, the superfat that acts like a handyman inside your arteries and also helps with immune function and brain repair. It lowers triglycerides and blood pressure, makes blood less sticky (clot-prone), and cuts your odds of out-of-sync heartbeats (arrhythmias). Wild salmon, mahi mahi, catfish, flounder, and tilapia are top sources for the two omega-3s your body loves best: DHA and EPA.

What to have instead: Start with DHA-rich foods, such as walnuts (2.5 grams of omega-3 per ounce) and omega-3-enriched eggs and orange juice. But because it's hard to get enough through diet, reach for fish-oil supplements. Pop enough to get 3 grams of DHA and EPA a day. Or pop 600 milligrams of pills containing DHA from a vegetarian source like algae (that’s where fish get their DHA from) -- these are much smaller pills and have no fish taste or smell.

The superfood: Nuts

Why they're good: These tiny power foods are packed with fiber, protein, and an impressive mix of good fats (especially walnuts) that help lower your risk of diabetes, drop blood pressure, and cool chronic inflammation. An ounce a day can lower the rate of heart disease by as much as 40%. And nut-eaters lose more weight than nut-avoiders -- presumably because nuts curb your appetite. Plus, eating nuts before high-carbohydrate dishes (pasta, corn on the cob) helps keep your blood sugar steady, not soaring.

What to have instead: If you’re allergic to nuts, get their monounsaturated fats from avocados, canola and olive oils, olives, and even dark chocolate. But if you’re only allergic to the calories in nuts, give ’em a second chance. Have a small handful every day -- a half-ounce has only about 100 calories.

The superfood: Skim Milk

Why it's good: It's a rich source of bone-protecting calcium, vitamin D, and other minerals.

What to have instead: If you're lactose intolerant, try a brand that adds lactase -- the enzyme your body needs to digest milk sugars -- or take lactase tablets before you drink milk.

If you just don't do milk, then aim for 1,500 milligrams of calcium per day from other sources. Also, be sure to get 400 milligrams of magnesium and 1000 international units (IU) of vitamin D; 1,200 if you're over age 60. For supplements, we prefer calcium citrate to calcium carbonate. Calcium citrate is more easily absorbed, so you can take it anytime, not just with meals. (Your body can only absorb up to 600 milligrams of calcium in 2 hours, so keep citrate chewables in the car, and pop one every time you turn over the ignition.)

Whenever you can, load up on other calcium-rich foods. Black-eyed peas, baked beans, and canned salmon with the bones (they're tiny and safe) are good, and a cup of boiled collard greens or spinach packs as much calcium as a glass of skim milk.

The superfood: Flax

Why it's good: This little seed has a near-perfect balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids -- a balance that's missing in many modern diets. Getting too many 6s encourages inflammation, which ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a good fat in flax, fights.

What to have instead: Canola oil, walnuts, brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, and salad greens. Simply fit one of these -- or fish, fish oil, or capsules of DHA-omega-3 from algae, or an omega-3-enriched egg and glass of OJ -- into your diet every day to keep your good-fat seesaw in balance.

Once again, referring to Heart Disease and Diet Part I, we listed the worst foods. Well, by definition there would have to be some best foods. I stole the first list, I stole this list.

Heart Disease Diet the Bests

Best breakfast

Starbucks Perfect Oatmeal with Nut Medley

  • 240 calories
  • 11 g fat (1.5 g saturated)
  • 0 mg sodium

Best lunch

Baja Fresh Grilled Mahi Mahi Tacos (2)

  • 460 calories
  • 18 g fat (3 g saturated)
  • 600 mg sodium

Best snack

Wholly Guacamole Classic (2 Tbsp)

  • 50 calories
  • 4 g fat (0.5 g saturated)
  • 75 mg sodium

Best dinner

Uno Chicago Grill Lemon Basil Salmon with Steamed Broccoli

  • 510 calories
  • 39 g fat (5 g saturated)
  • 1,030 mg sodium

The problem with best and worst lists is "Who says so." Take everything with a grain of salt and only a grain of salt.

Eat well.

The Simplified Handbook for
Living with Heart Disease
and Other Chronic Diseases

This comprehensive, doctor reviewed and approved book explains heart disease from a patientís perspective. Without complicated medical mumbo-jumbo, this blunt and hilarious book is a total lifesaver.