The best diet for heart health is a well-balanced cardiac diet, tailor-made for the person if possible. This diet is a heart-healthy eating plan to prevent heart disease and to keep your heart healthy.
The following heart-friendly foods can be used frequently:
1. Bread and cereal products (rice, spaghetti, breakfast cereal)
Wholemeal cereals and bread are a good source of linoleic acid, which is a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid and lowers risk of coronary heart disease.
2. Vegetables and fruits
People who eat a slightly more Mediterranean diet and use vegetable oils for cooking and for dressing salads will have a lot more essential fatty acids in their bodies which should protect them against heart disease.
3. Fish with the most lifesaving omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acid is obtained from fish and fresh green vegetables. It is a good idea to eat fish about 3 times a week and to eat the oily fish such as cod, mackerel, sardines, haddocks, ocean trout and salmon.
4. High soluble fiber foods
Soluble fiber is found in grains such as psyllium, barley and oat bran as well as in beans and lentils. These foods contain substances that may help improve your blood cholesterol, a leading cause of heart disease.
5. Low-fat dairy foods (yogurt, milk, and cheese)
Choose low fat dairy products such as skim milk, low-fat cheese and non-fat yogurt. Dairy fat is saturated fat, a type of fat that can dramatically raise blood cholesterol. Once the fat has been removed the food becomes heart friendly and will not affect blood cholesterol.
6. Polyunsaturated oils and polyunsaturated margarine in small amounts
Polyunsaturated fats can lower blood cholesterol and are usually liquid oils extracted from plant seeds. Vegetable oils should be used for cooking. They include safflower, sunflower, soy bean, maize, and cottonseed oils (but steer clear of coconuts and coconut oils which are high in cholesterol).
How to eat for heart health
The cardiac diet guidelines recommended here are aimed primarily at lowing the high death rate from heart disease, they may also help prevent other diet-related diseases.
1. Eat a variety of foods each day
Different types of food are necessary to supply the main nutrients required for good health. No single food contains all these materials.
2. Prevent and control obesity
Obesity increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Reducing excess fats, alcohol and sugar and increasing physical activity will help to bring down your weight. Eat less, rather than cutting out whole categories of food.
3. Eat less fat
Excess fats in the diet may contribute to obesity, high blood cholesterol levels, heart disease and certain cancers. Choose lean meats, low-fat dairy products and use low-fat cooking methods. Use butter, margarine, cream and oils sparingly.
4. Eat less sugar
High sugar intake is associated with obesity and tooth decay. Sugars, whether white, brown, raw or glucose, are solely an energy source and their nutrient content is negligible.
5. Limit alcohol intake
Excessive alcohol contributes to the health, social and nutritional problems of many people. Low nutritional status results when habitual drinking interferes with good eating habits.
6. Eat more fruit, vegetables, and cereals
Constipation, diverticular disease and other constipation-related ailments are linked with lack of dietary fiber (found only in plant foods). Bread, wholegrain cereals, fruit and vegetables provide necessary dietary fiber and a variety of nutrients. They are best for replacing foods high in fat and sugar.
7. Eat less salt
Sodium from excessive use of table salt and salty processed foods may contribute to high blood pressure. Reducing excess sodium intake from an early age may help to control hypertension. Salt should not be added to food prepared for infants.
8. Enjoy water
People drink large amounts of soft drinks and alcohol, which may contribute to obesity and/or dental caries. Where possible, quench your thirst with water. Use water rather than sweetened syrups and beverages for infants and children.
9. Use lean meats, chicken and fish
Remove all visible fat before cooking. Avoid sausages, luncheon meats and salami-type meats. Replace some meats with beans, peas and lentils several times a week.
10. Limit fats and oils
Use minimal amounts of butter, margarine, oils, high-oil salad dressings, mayonnaise, cream and cream substitutes.
11. Limit intake of whole milk and high-fat cheeses and ice cream
Use low-fat milk products, including skim milk, cottage and ricotta cheeses.
12. Avoid fried foods, high-fat take-away foods
Avoid pastries, cakes, doughnuts, chocolates and fried foods.
13. Use methods that require minimal fat or oil
Grilling, baking, braising, steaming, boiling or pressure cooking. Use recipes requiring only moderate amounts of fat.
Why are fruits and vegetables good for heart health?
Vegetables and fruits contain fiber and substances that may help prevent cardiovascular disease and diet-related diseases.
Get plenty of vitamins and minerals by eating fruits and vegetables. You need the vitamins especially to help burn the starches, sugars and carbohydrates you eat.
It has been said that the real merit of a vegetarian diet lies not in the absence of meat but in the presence of quantities of vegetables. They provide natural vitamins in abundant supply.
Raw or cooked, vegetables need not taste like fodder. The serious dieter can concoct any number of dips and sauces for vegetables out of a low-calorie mayonnaise mixed with chili sauce and a dash of Worcestershire, or yogurt and lemon juice and dill – and although these concoctions will add a few extra calories to each snack or meal, they will also improve the flavor.
Five carrot sticks, undressed and unadorned, are indeed rabbit food; but a tossed salad containing lettuce, cucumber, mushrooms, onions, asparagus spears, carrot curls, radish roses, green pepper slices, tomato wedges, and broccoli, topped with sliced cheese and hard-boiled eggs and tossed with three tablespoons of cream-style dressing is a meal. And it contains fewer calories than a single slice of pecan pie – proof that it is almost impossible to devise a meal that is both high in raw vegetable content and high in calories.
How to cook for heart health
The major indicator of heart disease is cholesterol, particularly bad cholesterol, called low-density lipoprotein (LDL). These healthy cooking methods can lower the bad cholesterol in food.
After cooking mince until all the red color is gone, pour the contents of the frying pan into a colander and drain off all the fat. Continue with your regular recipe.
Soups, stews and casseroles
Prepare these dishes a day ahead of time. Refrigerate overnight. Skim off the fat that rises to the top. If you want to thicken them with flour or cornstarch, wait until the fat is removed.
Invest in a non-stick frying pan, in which you can saute with much less oil. Instead of butter, substitute cooking oil. In rare cases when the flavor of butter is indispensable (for mushrooms, for instance) add a teaspoonful of butter to the salad oil. That way you get the flavor without most of the cholesterol.
There are a number of cheeses made with skim milk, including mozzarella and a Norwegian cheese called Jarlsberg. You don’t have to stop serving lasagna, for instance; just substitute skim-milk mozzarella and leave out the ricotta cheese. In parts of northern Italy, very little cheese is used in lasagna; instead, the cooks use a cream sauce which can be made successfully with skim milk.
Rich chocolate is taboo, but cocoa is all right and can be substituted in many recipes. Three tablespoons of cocoa is the equivalent of an ounce of baking chocolate.
Bacon and salt pork
Many cooks depend heavily on pork products for flavoring vegetables. If you are one of them add imitation bacon bits after the vegetable is cooked. These bacon bits are also good in salads. A little wine is a good low-cholesterol way to add flavor to stew, casseroles and sauces. Always simmer the sauce long enough to get rid of the alcoholic taste.
Does a low-fat diet prevent heart disease?
A low-fat diet and heart-healthy lifestyle are your best weapons to fight obesity and heart disease.
Overweight adds extra miles of blood vessels and puts a strain on the heart. Eating too much fat is blamed for causing coronary heart disease, by a hardening or narrowing of the coronary artery that brings blood to the heart.
Any given weight of fat contains more than twice the calories of the same amount of carbohydrate or protein, so the first principle of sound nutrition – and an obvious answer to the question of what to eat – is to consume far less fat.
It is quite possible to cut down on fats by studying and memorizing such a chart. It is also time-consuming. A far easier way to cut down is to think in terms of the fats that are added to foods as they are prepared, rather than fats inherent in unprepared foodstuffs. Raw cabbage, for instance, contains only traces of oil, but coleslaw is almost 10 percent oil.
Butter, cheese, cream, chocolate bars all contain fat and are forbidden to heart patients.
Who should eat a low salt diet?
Patients with cardiovascular disease will be told they need to follow a low-salt diet for improving their health.
People like salt and eat foods high in salt. But salt makes congestive heart disease (heart failure) worse, or may contribute to bringing it on.
In heart failure, the heart is over-worked perhaps because of high blood pressure or earlier heart damage. Salt promotes watery swellings in the body and the heart has to work even harder.
Salt is both the oldest and most popular of all condiments, and is employed in virtually every form of food processing, from canning to ice-cream making.
We have no need to add extra salt at table, yet we go on salting what is put before us. We salt salt-cured meats and salt-saturated vegetables and most of us consume five or six times as much salt as our bodies actually need.
In such quantities salt actually masks, rather than enhances, the flavor of what we eat. This served a very special purpose centuries ago, when much meat was rank, but it defeats the purpose of consuming foods at their peak.
The taste of fried foods is particularly enhanced by salt, and if you can make them less appetizing by not salting them – and so eat fewer chips or deep-fried fish pieces – you will be doing yourself a favor.
How does sugar affect heart disease?
The main goal of a heart-healthy diet is to reduce sugar, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Eating too much sugar is a well-known cause of premature heart attacks, and sudden death. It can also elevate the cholesterol (another blood fat) level with similar consequences.
Excess refined sugars may contribute to heart disease, as it can be concentrated into small amounts of food and drinks which require little chewing. This makes it easy to consume excessive energy unintentionally and become overweight.
Refined sugar does make you fat faster than many other foods, even those high in natural sugars, fats and calories. This is because refined sugar is the only nutritionally “pure” staple in our diet; it contains nothing but calories in the form of simple carbohydrates, whereas all other foods, including complex carbohydrates, contain traces of other nutrients.
Sugar, like salt, is an acquired taste. We consume more of it than we need, having acquired our sweet tooth as infants, when first introduced to solid food. Habits so deeply ingrained are all but impossible to reverse, but it is possible for an adult to wean himself or herself from over-dependence on sugar. (Some sugar is essential to the diet).
Any diet high in fruits and vegetables will not only be low in calories but also in refined sugars. Most nutritional quackery and dietary foolishness centers round the sugar content of cakes and sweets, cordials and snack foods. These things were once considered no more than “extras” to a balanced meal, but have gradually replaced fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fiber in the Western diet.
People’s notions about the relative merits of such foods tend to be strongly influenced by what they have seen and read. They extol the “natural” qualities of brown sugar, unaware that it is 99 percent refined, one step removed from the white table sugar they hold in contempt. And they praise the virtues of honey, an “organic” sweetener indistinguishable from refined sugar in the body and just as liable as sugar to cause tooth decay.