Monday, February 17, 2014

Foods that Heart Your Heart

So its American Heart Month. Its the month that cupid is more then OK, and its also the month that people start to think a little more about Love. Since I often think about love and food, I decide to combine the two into a heart healthy post.

When I was a little girl I remember my Dad standing in the kitchen and professing, "fat will not make you fat, but those carbs...."

This was well before the age of Atkins, but please be advised my Dad's intentions were nothing like the Atkins Diet; he's rather fond of his fresh baked bread he used to buy from a local farm house in Maine before moving towards sunnier days in Burbank, CA with my Mum. His thought was that the imbalance of carbs to fats in the American diet that were displayed on stores shelves in the form of processed low-fat/non-fat items such as sugary yogurts and Snackwell cookies (really?? A low-fat cookie? ) was more hurtful then helpful to our health. "Just eat real food," he would announce to anyone listening....

As a teenager I (kind of) listened. It just did not really hit me back then. I grew up on liverwurst, and sardines drenched in oil and to this day I still keep my butter on the kitchen table. I, too, then got lost in the low-fat trap when I reached college age. Then one day I heard about some research showing that low-fat/non-fat dairy (I am the Dairy Queen in case you were wondering) was associated with infertility (which I later used as a variable to finish my Masters research at NYU); not that I was looking to get pregnant at the time, but as a woman you wonder about how these things MAY affect your future.

This post is not to tell you that fat is better than carbs or that in order to have a healthy heart you must eat fatty foods- absolutely NOT -it is merely to point out some lovers of hearts in the food world and to emphasize that our bodies thrive on ALL THREE MACRONUTRIENTS- fat, carbs and protein. Some people have rare genetic diseases where they benefit from ketogenic diets (mostly fat) or must not consume foods with phenylalanine for example (a building block of protein). By the way, PKU disorders are tested in all US born infants and if one should have this disorder their diet SAVES THEIR LIFE.

This proposes why nutrition is so important, we are not all built in a box- what I tell a client who is trying to get pregnant and loose weight before doing so is far different than what I would tell an Athlete to eat. One thing that I do tell everyone? I emphasize REAL FOODS. I'm taking back the boxes, the fluorescent packaging, the marketing towards kids. Here is a list of 6 REAL FOODS that heart your heart, and why:

1. Avocado

Surprise, surprise right. One study showed that 1 avocado a day as part of a moderate fat diet- 34% of calories (so not going fat crazy ) lowered small dense LDL (the worse cholesterol). Some avocados are quite large so I recommend adding half an avocado at a meal or snack and 1/4th if you are trying to lose weight.

2. Nuts

We all know nuts are high in fat, but behold, new studies- and one by Harvard, showed that those who ate about a handful of nuts daily actually weighed less then those who did not eat any nuts and it also helped with weight management. Nuts also are mostly made out of unsaturated fats.  Nuts are also a good source of protein and chock full of vitamins, plus fiber- they are a great in between meal snack or addition to meals flavor twist. Walnuts and Almonds are great choices- go for raw or dry roasted to lower your risk of heart disease- also shown to lower that bad cholesterol!

3. Dark Chocolate ( I know you were waiting for this one).

The focus is on the DARK- not the modern day sugary infused candy bars- I am talking about the bitter stuff. Raw cocoa powder rocks! Thank the flavanoids, which are organic compounds found in cocoa's dark rich color shown to lower blood pressure and may protect against stroke.

4. Whole Grains

One word here: Fiber Whole grains- think oats, Bulgar, whole wheat flour- (must  be 100% whole wheat flour though- read the labels)! The increase of fiber (look for 3 or more grams per serving) helps to "attack cholesterol" if you will and rid it from your system. Don't neglect your water intake however, if you are increasing your fiber make sure to drink enough water to keep your system in check otherwise you will have the opposite effect of regularity.

5. Fruits and Veggies

That's right, you knew it was coming, simple and true, veggies and fruits heart your heart! One study concluded that : "Our data suggest that absolute quantity, rather than variety, in fruit and vegetable intake is associated with a significantly lower risk of CHD. Nevertheless, consumption of specific fruit and vegetable subgroups was associated with a lower CHD risk"

So in other words eat them DAILY.  In one study I read green leafy vegetables were most strongly associated with a decrease in heart disease. In fact, just one serving lowered risk by 11%! 

6. Salmon

High in omega-3 fatty acids, which help to decrease inflammation in our bodies and have been shown clinically to lower triglycerides (fat in our blood, or blood lipid). Cheers to that!

The best part about it all, research keeps proving that whats good for the heart is good for the brain (which is good for the mind). Much like the things in life that fulfill our hearts fulfill our minds and we feel whole. Its a connections that keeps us alive for a long, long time.

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