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Eating for a Health Heart
By Rebecca Mohning   View more articles by this author
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September 29

It is time to find ways to be healthier to protect your heart. The American Heart Association recommends a dietary pattern that keeps intake of trans fats and saturated fats as low as possible (with less than 10 percent of daily calories coming from trans fats and saturated fats combined), as both of these are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Don’t be confused trans fat is worse than saturated fat since it raises the bad cholesterol (LDL) and also lowers the good cholesterol (HDL) unlike saturated fat which only raises the bad cholesterol.  As a result, the debate has been settled, margarine is worse for us than butter because most margarines are processed using a method which results in unhealthy trans fats.

As of Jan. 1, 2006, the Nutrition Facts Labels on packaged food products were required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to list how many grams of trans fatty acid (trans fat) are contained within one serving of the product. The heart healthy recommendation involves eating a diet without any trans fat. It is important to note that food labels are allowed to put 0 grams of trans fat if the product contains less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving. So you could purchase a food that you thought had zero grams of trans fat, but still could be getting them in your diet. So look at the ingredient list for hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils and this will tell you if the product has trans fats.    

Trans fats are a specific type of fat formed when liquid oils are chemically processed into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine. They are typically found in baked goods, microwave popcorn, peanut butter, and other processed foods. When you are out grocery shopping you should choose products that are listed as trans fat free and be sure to buy all natural peanut butter to avoid trans fat.

So it is not all about cutting out the trans fat and limiting saturated fat when it comes to improving heart health. There are certain foods that are good for the heart and help reduce the risk for developing heart disease. Omega 3 fatty acids are very important for protecting the heart, so try incorporating salmon or tuna, ground flax seeds, and/or almonds/walnuts to get your daily dose of the good fats. Fiber is also an important component in the diet to lower cholesterol and thus reduce the risk of heart disease. The daily goal for fiber is 25-30 grams per day. Oatmeal, beans, and whole grains are great dietary sources of fiber. Don’t forget fruits and vegetables provide 2-3 grams of fiber per ½ cup serving.

Not to save the best for the last, but the newest recommendations include red wine and dark chocolate. Red wine contains an antioxidant – reservatrol that has been found to improve “good” HDL cholesterol. To go along with your daily glass of red wine add a small piece of dark chocolate.  Dark chocolate contains cocoa phenols (flavonoids) that have been shown in studies to lower blood pressure and have antioxidant protective qualities.
   
Keep in mind you can lower your risk for heart disease by improving your diet. Remember to couple a healthy diet with an exercise program for the best results.

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