Picking and Choosing
What science says about food and your heart
For years, the medical community has advocated a low-fat, high-fiber diet for heart health. Sounds reasonable enough. But just what does "low-fat, high-fiber" really mean—and how can you make it happen in real life?
Yes, you want to stay away from an overload of fat, especially the saturated kind, but there are many more foods that you should be including rather than excluding.
Recent scientific research points to two major categories of foods that contribute to heart health.
Soluble fiber: There are two forms of fiber in the foods we eat. Neither insoluble fiber or soluble fiber is digested by the body. But soluble fiber forms a gel when mixed with water. While insoluble fiber's main benefit is to move bulk through the intestines, soluble fiber may help prevent heart disease by lowering harmful LDL cholesterol. It's also great for keeping blood glucose levels on an even keel.
So how can you get more of this wonderful substance in your diet? Try foods like beans, carrots, oats, apples, barley, nuts, flaxseed, oranges, apples, and carrots.
Omega-3 fatty acids: This grouping of heart-healthy fats may reduce the risk of heart attack by reducing blood clotting, lowering levels of triglycerides, and decreasing the risk of irregular heartbeat. Fatty fish such as salmon are king here, along with plant sources like flaxseed. You can also find eggs that have increased amounts of omega-3s; they'll be marked as such on the package.
Okay, so now you have your arsenal of heart-healthy foods. How do you deploy it? One easy way is to start your morning with a bowl of cooked oatmeal.
If you don't like oatmeal plain, try adding a small amount of apple juice when you're cooking it, along with the water. You can also try adding some grated apple or pear (with the skin) for extra fiber and flavor. Then top the whole thing with a tablespoon of crumbled walnuts or ground flaxseed for omega-3 benefits. If you're already making a heart-healthy dinner, save yourself some time later by cooking up some extra pieces of salmon. You can serve it cold the next day, flaked over a lunchtime salad.
You can even give your meals a bit of stealth health by adding a spoonful of ground flaxseed to any waffle, pancake, or muffin mix. In fact, once you start experimenting with these new ingredients, you'll find loads of new ways to make every meal heart-smart—and delicious.
Associate Editor Robyn Webb is the author of a number of cookbooks, including Italian Diabetic Meals In 30 Minutes—Or Less!, published by the American Diabetes Association. This, as well as other books by Robyn, can be ordered from the Association's online bookstore at http://store.diabetes.org or by calling 1-800-232-6733.