By Melody Vallieu
While February is the month to celebrate American Heart Month, people need to spend all 12 months keeping their heart healthy.
Several ways of doing that include diet and exercise.
Although the focus of the diet has changed over the years, the fact remains that healthy foods and an active lifestyle still promote a healthy heart.
“Diet has always been a cornerstone treatment for any cardiac issue,” said Diane Birchfield, RD, LD, outpatient dietitian for UVMC for the past 17 years working with outpatients, cardiac rehab and offering speaking engagements.
Birchfield said the emphasis on key nutrients has changed over the last 40 years or so. She said she remembers in the 1970s, the American Heart Association focused on avoiding saturated fats and encouraging polyunsaturated fats. Patients even got a salad at lunch with a little 1/2 ounce cup of vinegar/corn oil dressing as part of the cardiac diet. In the 1990s, emphasis was on monounsaturated fats (olive oil, canola oil, nuts) over polyunsaturated fats and a slew of margarine choices became available (Smart Balance, Olivio,etc). Even traditional companies such as Fleischman’s and Mazola (corn oil) rolled out margarine with olive or canola oil.
However, in the last 10 years, Birchfield said the emphasis has been placed on avoiding transfats (label required beginning in 2006) and adding Omega 3 fats (fish, avocado, walnuts, flax). Both monounsaturated fats and omega fats raise the HDL — or “good cholesterol.”
Saturated fats raise the LDL “bad cholesterol” and transfats raise the LDL and lower the HDL — a “double whammy,” she said.
A bad diet can directly affect all lipid values — HDL, LDL, total cholesterol and triglycerides.
“It can also raise blood pressure from high sodium intakes, clogging arteries, thickening the blood and more,” she said. “Poor diets can contribute to diabetes, weight issues, dental cavities, joint problems, GI conditions, behavior issues and more.”
Birchfield said reversing the way people think about foods is to be more positive which can help people make better choices.
“It is always better to emphasize ‘What can I eat’ versus ‘What can’t I eat,” she said.
Heart-healthy foods have the following nutrients in common, including: antioxidants to protect blood vessels and reduce inflammation, folate to protect hardening of the arteries, monounsaturated fats/omega 3 fats to increase HDL and reduce triglycerides, potassium to lower blood pressure and soluble fiber to lower LDL.
She said dried beans, berries, ground flaxseed, nuts, olive oil, oatmeal, soy, spinach, salmon and dark chocolate all are top selections f0r a heart-healthy diet.
Moderation is key
Another key is moderation, said Birchfield, who has been a dietitian for 28 years total, previously at the Dayton V.A. and in Indianapolis.
“Moderation is essential in any diet plan for long term success,” she said. “‘Always’ and ‘never’ don’t bode well for success.”
She said many RDs, like herself, stress the 90:10 rule — be diligent 90 percent of the time and allow for splurges or favorite foods 10 percent of the time.
“Knowing that you can have a favorite item is important. Sometimes that favorite item can be altered to give it a better nutrient profile while also satisfying that craving,” Birchfield said. “For example, using longer cooking oatmeal versus instant for more fiber and less sodium.”
Bring on the exercise
Diet and exercise are true partners for a healthier lifestyle, Birchfield said. Finding a balance can be challenging, but rewarding.
“In the summer bike, run or walk to the Dairy Queen for a treat versus keeping that ice cream in your home freezer,” she said.
Exercise helps build HDL, lowers blood pressure and blood sugar, strengthens muscles, burns calories, serves as a stress reducer and so on, according to Birchfield.
“Wearing a pedometer is a great way to stay in tune with your daily activity level,” she said. “Even better, learn how many steps you must take to burn a certain amount of calories and you might think twice before you eat something.”
Birchfield offers some tips to start having a healthier diet. She said those interested can start by making some small substitutes: use soy milk in your cereal, add ground flax to your oatmeal, rinse your meat after cooking and rinse canned vegetables.
“Go vegetarian for a day. ‘Meatless Mondays’ is a national program one can try for ideas,” she said. “Ensure at least one fruit and one vegetable for lunch and supper.”
Tofu is a versatile food that adopts the flavor of what it is mixed with. The following is a recipe using tofu.
• Egg Salad
Mash 1/2 pound silken tofu in a bowl
Add 1 tsp. dried thyme
1/8 tsp. tumeric
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. vinegar
Mix in 2 tablespoons each of diced celery, green peppers, carrots and scallions. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Make a sandwich with whole grain bread.
• Sloppy Soys
Brown 1 pound lean ground beef, drain if any fat.
Add 1 package soy crumbles (Boca or Morningstar Farms — freezer section)
Add your own sauce or use store bought sauce such as Manwich.
Serve with a whole wheat pita.