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Heart Healthy Nutrition


When it comes to heart health, there are several lab values your doctor and dietitian will look for:


LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol)

HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol)

Triglycerides

Blood pressure


When these numbers are out of the healthy range, there is an increased risk of heart disease.


Here are some nutrition tips to target each of the different heart health lab markers.


LDL and HDL cholesterol

Lowering overall fat intake is often recommended to treat high cholesterol, but not all types of fat – or cholesterol – contribute to heart disease.


LDL cholesterol – or low density lipoprotein – contributes to heart disease. However, HDL cholesterol – high density lipoprotein – balances out the effects of LDL cholesterol and actually helps to prevent heart disease.


With high LDL cholesterol, our main nutrition advice is to lower saturated fat intake, because this is the type of dietary fat that contributes to a rise in LDL cholesterol. Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products, like butter, fatty cuts of beef and pork, processed meats, like bacon and sausage, heavy cream, cheese, ice cream, and fried foods. Enjoy these foods in moderation – less than 10% of your total intake.


Unsaturated fat, on the other hand, is heart-healthy when eaten in appropriate amounts. We call this the "healthy fat", and it can even help lower LDL cholesterol when eaten in place of saturated fat. Sources of unsaturated fat include avocados, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and fatty fish, like salmon and tuna. These are great to include daily, especially to replace where you would typically use saturated fat, like substituting olive oil for butter.


To sum it up: reduce saturated fats, and add more heart healthy fats.


Take it a step further:

Soluble fiber, found in oats, potatoes, beans, avocados, and most fruits and vegetables, helps lower LDL cholesterol. This type of fiber becomes a gel-like substance in the gut and absorbs cholesterol so that it can be excreted. This results in lower blood cholesterol. Include plenty of high fiber foods every day. Aim to get at least 25 grams of fiber daily from food sources.


Low intensity exercise, like walking or biking, helps to raise HDL cholesterol. Remember, this is the good cholesterol that protects the body from bad cholesterol! Engage in at least 150 minutes of low to moderate intensity exercise per week to reap the benefits.


Triglycerides

A high sugar diet, sugary drinks, and alcohol are the main contributors to high triglycerides. Reduce the amount of refined carbohydrates and added sugars you consume. Swap your sweetened or alcoholic beverage for water, or try an unsweetened or diet/zero version.


Take it a step further:

Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats found in fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. Eat these foods often as an extra step to help lower triglycerides.


Blood pressure

A diet high in salt – also known as sodium – contributes to high blood pressure. Reducing sodium is usually the first-line advice that is prescribed after a diagnosis of hypertension. However, nutrition recommendations for high blood pressure include so much more than just reducing sodium!


Most of the sodium in our diet comes from packaged foods, convenience foods, and restaurant foods, not the salt shaker in the kitchen. Focus on eating more whole foods, reducing packaged, highly processed foods, and frozen or convenience meals, as these tend to be very high in sodium. When you do choose convenience foods, look for items that have less than 600mg of sodium per serving.


Another mineral, potassium, helps to counter sodium’s effect on blood pressure. Most people don’t get nearly enough potassium and overeat sodium. Fruits and vegetables are high in potassium, and low in sodium. They’re also high in fiber! Win-win-win!


To sum it up: reduce sodium from processed foods, and increase potassium from fruits and vegetables


Take it a step further:

Increasing your heart rate during exercise helps to strengthen your heart and makes each beat more effective. When your heart beats more efficiently, it doesn't have to work as hard, resulting in lower blood pressure. Engage in low-moderate intensity exercise, like walking or biking, for 150 minutes per week to strengthen your heart!


In addition, a high-stress lifestyle can contribute to high blood pressure. Stress management practices, like self-care, meditation, low-intensity exercise, and removing extra items from your to-do list can help reduce stress and blood pressure. Take a walk in nature to reduce stress and reap the blood pressure lowering benefits of exercise!


Supplements for heart health

While dietitians will always recommend food first, supplements are an effective way to support your heart health.


Soluble fiber helps to lower LDL cholesterol. If you aren’t getting enough fiber through your diet, psyllium fiber supplements, like Metamucil, like are a great option.


Omega-3 fatty acids help to lower triglycerides and keep cholesterol in check. If you aren’t getting enough healthy fats from food, try a fish oil supplement.


Always ask your dietitian or doctor before starting a new dietary supplement. It is important to ask a professional for dosage recommendations based on a variety of factors.


Thanks for reading! I hope you learned something new.


Happy (heart) health,

Flannery


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