Eating Right for Your Heart Health

Maintain a heart-healthy diet with these tips, including recipes for chicken and vegetables Provençale and spaghetti with cauliflower.

| January/February 1990

  • Vegetables and Stethoscope
    The best way to achieve a healthy diet is to get in the habit of eating more fresh, wholesome, natural foods like fruits and vegetables.

  • Vegetables and Stethoscope

More horsefeathers get tossed about regarding the subject of nutrition than just about anything else. This modern snake-oil salesmanship used to be the stamping ground of the quacks, selling you "vitamin B93" to cure baldness, or psoriasis, or impotence. Now the food industry itself has jumped in.

Health sells. A third of all new food products introduced in 1988 boasted a health claim. It's certainly encouraging to see powerful companies compete to bring us lighter, healthier, lower-fat foods. Let's face it: We need all the help we can get.

But as corporations search for competitive advantage in the marketplace, the truth is sometimes lost along the way. This product claims it has no cholesterol, but it turns out to be high in tropical oils such as palm, which is mostly saturated fat, which raises blood cholesterol (the kind that counts) even more dramatically than does the intake of dietary cholesterol. Yet another argues it's a better breakfast cereal because it has more vitamins than its whole-grain brother, as if the purpose of breakfast were to supply us with a sugar-coated vitamin pill, rather than with nourishing, energizing complex carbohydrates.

Basics of a Heart Healthy Diet

Must the quest for a healthy diet really be confusing? Not at all. In fact, it's rather astoundingly simple, as it turns out. Listen to The Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health. The number one rule: Cut fat. More specifically: "Reduce consumption of fat (especially saturated fat) and cholesterol. Choose foods relatively low in these substances, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, poultry, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products. Use preparation methods that add little or no fat."

The reasons behind such recommendations are many. A diet that's too high in fat, especially the saturated type that's found mostly in animal foods such as dairy fat (butter, cream, whole milk) and meat fat (heavily marbled beef, pork fat, chicken skin), increases the blood levels of such fats as cholesterol, and that can increase the risk of heart disease. A high-fat diet may also predispose to cancer. And diabetes. And gallbladder disease. Not to mention obesity, which can complicate other health problems.

Perhaps you've heard recently that there's a controversy over the relationship between cholesterol and heart disease. There has been, although it focuses mostly on the wisdom of a federal program, the National Cholesterol Education Program, which may encourage doctors to put too many patients who have high cholesterol on cholesterol-lowering drugs. No one really disputes the finding that a high level of cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease, or that lowering your cholesterol level to below 200 through diet will reduce that risk.

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