A cardiac diet, also known as a heart-healthy diet, concentrates on eating heart-friendly foods and reducing foods rich in energy, saturated fats, cholesterol, salt, and refined sugar.
What’s wrong with the typical American diet?
Most of the recognized risk factors for coronary heart disease are influenced by the Western diet or standard American diet. The typical American diet contributes not only to atherosclerosis but also to many other health problems:
- high blood pressure
- breast and colon cancer
- constipation problems
- diet-related diseases
Eliminating fatty foods from the diet makes room for healthy carbohydrates such as bread, cereals, pasta, rice, legumes, fruit, and vegetables. Many of these are high in fiber which can help lower cholesterol.
You can eat the following foods on a cardiac diet:
- Cereals and wholegrain foods: Whole-grain, millet, barley, whole wheat bread, quinoa, brown rice, oat.
- Vegetables and fruits: Broccoli, curly kale, blueberry, orange, avocados, apple, carrot, banana.
- Fish with the most lifesaving omega-3 fatty acids: Salmon, herring, sardine, Atlantic mackerel, trout.
- Soluble fiber foods: Oat bran, barley, beans, lentils, peas, nuts, and seeds.
- Low-fat dairy foods in moderate amounts: Low-fat milk, low-fat cottage cheese, and low-fat plain yogurt.
- Polyunsaturated fats in small amounts: Tahini, linseed (flaxseed), chia seeds, soybean, sunflower, safflower, and canola oil.
Enjoyment of the food we eat is still compatible with self-discipline. Moderation rather than elimination is always the guiding principle.
Here are 10 dietary guidelines for a balanced cardiac diet:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Eat more fruit, vegetables, and cereals. Constipation, diverticular disease, and other constipation-related ailments are linked with a 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Use cooking methods that require minimal fat or oil. Grilling, baking, braising, steaming, boiling, or pressure cooking. Use recipes requiring only moderate amounts of fat.
Benefits of Eating Fruits and Vegetables
The fiber in fruit and vegetables could well influence the risk of heart disease because of its effects on blood cholesterol levels, obesity, and diabetes.
Fiber foods contain few calories for their large volume. Not only are such foods bulk-forming and filling, but the extra chewing required before swallowing tends to lessen the amount of food eaten.
For example, one large, fresh apple would fill most people, yet the juice from two or three apples is quickly swallowed without chewing and is not filling.
Furthermore, when fiber foods replace foods with high fat or sugar content there is a significant saving in calories. Indeed, one study showed that men, given 10 large potatoes to eat each day, and being allowed whatever other food they fancied, were able to lose weight because they didn’t want much else.
Additionally, fiber can physically interfere with the complete digestion and absorption of fats and other nutrients in the intestines. This small wastage of energy could be significant over a period in helping to control weight.
Cholesterol in Food
The major indicator of heart disease is cholesterol, particularly bad cholesterol, called low-density lipoprotein (LDL). These healthy cooking methods can be used in the cardiac diet to lower the bad cholesterol in food.
- Spaghetti sauce: 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.
- Sautés: 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.
- Cheese: There are many kinds of cheese 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 that can be made successfully with skim milk.
- Chocolate: Rich chocolate is taboo, but cocoa is all right and can be substituted in many recipes. Three tablespoons of cocoa are 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.
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 overworked 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 do not need to add extra salt at the 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 need.
In such quantities salt 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.
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 an adult can 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 center around 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.