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A Heart Healthy Diet Makeover

Heart Disease remains the number one cause of death in the U.S. among both men and women. Part of the problem is it is truly a silent killer. There are few warning signs of a heart attack and the signs that are there donâ??t necessarily make us feel bad. The good news is there are many lifestyle changes you can make to significantly decrease your risk of heart disease. Here are 9 simple steps to make over your diet for heart health.

1. Use the right fats: The good fats are found to preserve HDL (protective cholesterol) and lower LDL (Bad Cholesterol) levels. The good fats are found in foods such as olive, canola, and peanut oils as well as nuts, avocados and olives.

2. Decrease the Saturated Fats: These fats tend to increase the cholesterol made by your body. They can increase your total and LDL (Bad) cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are found in animal products such as dairy, poultry (especially the skin), meats, butter and cream based sauces and dressings. It is not necessary to omit these foods, just choose leaner options and have the higher fat foods once in awhile.

3. Remove all Trans Fats from your pantry! : Trans Fats are oils that have been hardened by the hydrogenation process, such as stick margarine and shortening used to make commercial baked goods, chips, and fast foods. Like saturated fats, these fats increase total blood cholesterol and LDL (Bad) cholesterol levels and may even lower HDL (Good) cholesterol levels. Food labels will be required to list the amount of Trans fats in a food product by 2006. Until then, if the ingredient list on the food label includes the term hydrogenated, or partially hydrogenated, it contains Trans Fats. Avoid these products!

4. Increase Your Fiber! : Soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol levels in the blood by binding to cholesterol in the intestine so it cannot be absorbed by the body. Good food sources of soluble fiber include beans and legumes, oranges, apples, prunes, broccoli, carrots, oat bran, oatmeal, and some cereals. Use whole grain products in place of their white counterparts. Eat at least 20-40 grams of fiber a day. (Most Americans only eat around 12 grams of fiber a day.)

5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids every day: Omega-3 Fatty Acids are essential fatty acids meaning we have to get them from our diet. These fatty acids may reduce the risk of blood clotting, decrease inflammation, lower triglyceride levels, normalize heart rhythms and improve the immune system. Consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids daily may reduce the incidence of sudden cardiac death by 50-70%. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in: fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, lake trout, halibut, and sardines. Other sources include ground flax seeds, soybeans, canola oil, and walnuts.

6. Five To Eight Fruits and Vegetables a day: Eating fruits and vegetables can help to decrease your risk of heart disease, cancer, cataracts, and can help to lower blood pressure. Fruits and Vegetables are loaded in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. The more fruits and veggies you eat, the more antioxidant activity in your body. How do antioxidants work? Every day we are exposed to free radicals from our diets, sun, chemical exposure, pollution, etc. These free radicals promote the plaque build up in our arteries leading us to increased risk of heart disease. Antioxidants work by neutralizing these free radicals before they can cause damage to our bodies.

7. Folic Acid: High levels of an amino acid called homocysteine in the blood have been associated with damage to the blood-vessel walls, increased blood clotting, and overall increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Folate is a B vitamin which has been shown to decrease these homocysteine levels in the blood. Good food sources of Folate include green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, beet greens, and chard as well as legumes, asparagus, broccoli, oranges, orange juice, whole and fortified grains, walnuts and peanuts.

8. Add some almonds! Studies show that eating an ounce of almonds a day can help to lower your cholesterol. A matter of fact, a recent study published in Journal of the American Medical Association found that eating a diet that included plant sterol margarine (such as Benecol or ProActiv), soy products, almonds and increase fiber was able to lower cholesterol levels as much as the statin drugs and in just 2 weeks time! Have an ounce of almonds as a snack, or sprinkle them in your cereal or salad.

9. Have a little soy: Soy has also been shown to lower cholesterol levels. Using soy on a weekly basis is a great step towards protecting your heart. If you are not a tofu fan, try soy milk or yogurt, garden burgers, edamme (soy beans), or soy sausage patties. There are all kinds of ways to include soy in your diet!

Sample Heart Healthy Meal Makeover:

Sample day
- glass of orange juice
- 2 fried eggs
- 3 slices of bacon
- 2 slices white bread with 3 tsp butter

- roast beef sandwich on white bread
- potato chips

- 1 cup Cheez It crackers

- fried fish strips
- 1 cup mashed potatoes cooked w/whole milk and butter
- ½ cup corn

Diet make over:
-glass of calcium fortified orange juice
- scrambled egg beaters
- 1-2 slices of whole grain bread with 1-2 tsp Benocol or
ProActive spread
- 1-2 slices soy bacon or sausage links

-½ turkey, lettuce, tomato, and avocado sandwich
- 1 cup vegetable soup
- 8 oz vanilla non-fat yogurt with 1/3 cup of berries added

1 ounce almonds

- 3 ounces baked or broiled salmon
- ½ cup broiled red potatoes with olive oil
- ½ cup broccoli
- 1-2 cups of salad with cut up pears and toasted walnuts with 1TB olive oil vinaigrette salad dressing

Day 1 = 2300 calories and 114 grams fat; 98 grams sat fat; 45% calories from fat
Day 2 = 1800 calories and 58 grams fat; 14 grams sat fat; 29% calories from fat.

Making small changes can go a long way to improve your heart health! What changes can you start making?

© Meri Raffetto, 2005

About the Author

Owner of Real Living Nutrition Services, Meri Raffetto is a Registered Dietitian and a recognized professional in the area of nutrition and wellness. She has developed two online weight management programs, The Mini Diet Makeover and The Ultimate Diet Makeover, which focus on a healthy, non-diet approach to weight loss. For more information or to sign up for our free newsletter, visit



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