A heart-healthy diet, along with healthy eating habits and cooking methods, can lower your high blood cholesterol levels, and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
1. Low-Cholesterol Diet
The major indicator of heart disease is cholesterol, particularly bad cholesterol, called low-density lipoprotein (LDL). For heart patients the treatment is to cut down on fatty foods of any kind, for the human body can make bad cholesterol from any kind of fat.
Even on a totally vegetarian diet, humans make enough cholesterol to maintain its functions. Eating extra cholesterol simply puts more into the blood. Too much in the blood can lead to a build-up on the linings of the arteries.
Over the years, the artery becomes narrower as the build-up increases. A simple blood clot can then obstruct the artery completely. If this happens near the heart, a heart attack results; if near the brain, a stroke.
These healthy cooking methods can 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 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.
- Chocolate: 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.
2. Low-Fat Diet
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.
3. Low-Salt Diet
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.
4. Plant-Based Mediterranean Diet
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.
5. Low-Sugar Diet
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 overdependence 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.