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Evolution of the heart healthy diet



Information on how to eat to lower the risk for heart disease has changed a lot as studies have shown a clear link between food and wellness.

While there are still foods that you should limit in your diet, there are also foods that will protect you from heart disease when you eat more of them. It can be difficult to keep up with all of it, so here is a quick review to bring you up-to-date.

Fat vs. Cholesterol

Current research tells us that your risk for heart disease is linked to what kind of fat you eat, not how much cholesterol you eat. Saturated fat and trans fat can increase your bad (LDL) cholesterol; trans fat is even worse as it also can lower your good (HDL) cholesterol. Both are required to be on food labels. Saturated fat is found naturally in higher fat dairy foods, butter, lard, higher fat red meats, the skin on poultry, and coconut and palm oils. Trans fat, also referred to as hydrogenated fat, is found in stick margarines and shortening that are commonly used in many fried foods, pastries, cookies and crackers. You are recommended to avoid this fat completely.

Butter or Margarine?

The American Heart Association tells us to replace the saturated and trans fats with heart-healthy fats including olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, and nuts. The best spreadable fat is a soft, tub margarine – avoid stick margarines due to the trans fat. If you prefer butter, just be very careful how much you use.


Eggs were limited for many years due to the cholesterol content in the yolk. Americans were encouraged to limit to three yolks a week, then increased to four yolks a week, and now evidence shows that one egg daily is likely okay for most people. Eggs are a great source of protein with about 7 grams each; they make quick meals for busy families or someone cooking for just 1 or 2 people; and can be served in a variety of ways.

Sugar – It may be fat free, but it can cost you.

Heart disease risk had always been linked to fat intake, but in recent years the evidence has been clear that excess sugar intake is also to blame. Avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages like soda; and processed grains including most desserts and candy, white bread, pasta and white rice is just as important as limiting the saturated and trans fat. Higher quality grains such as brown or wild rice, whole wheat pasta, beans/lentils, etc… are much healthier choices.

Add more fiber

Eating a high fiber diet can reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, and hypertension to name a few. Soluble fiber, specifically works to lower bad (LDL) cholesterol. Including more beans/lentils, avocados, sweet potatoes, Brussel Sprouts, broccoli, oatmeal and Cheerios, pears and apples, and flaxseed are all good sources of soluble fiber.

See a registered dietitian to learn more or to get a plan to meet your specific needs.

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