Nourish a Healthy Heart
- 25 November 2013 25 November 2013
Deborah Straub is a Nutritionist at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. She is a published author on bone health and breast cancer in a well-respected nutrition journal and textbook. Her areas of focus include maintaining a healthy weight during menopause, vitamin and mineral supplementation and breast cancer prevention. Deborah has a Master's of Science in Nutrition from the University of Arizona. She loves travel, hiking in the mountains of Tucson and her golden retriever, Riley.
Interview with a Nutritionist
One of the most popular topics at Canyon Ranch is heart health. What is some of the information that is provided to guests?
When discussing heart health one of the first things that come to mind is cholesterol and its negative effects on the heart. Through lectures and individual consultations, guests are informed that cholesterol is actually one of the many substances created and used by our bodies to keep us healthy, and therefore isn't in-and-of itself something bad for you. In fact, Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found in both the bloodstream and in all of our cells, and is mainly produced from our liver (75%) while only a fraction (25%) comes from the food we eat. While it's true that too much cholesterol can form into plaque, the body needs cholesterol to give stability and rigidity to the cells and is needed to make hormones.
Any other surprising details regarding heart health?
Some people believe that if you're thin, you don't have to worry about heart health. In reality, any body type can have high cholesterol. Often people who don't easily put on weight become less aware of how much and which types of fats they are eating.
What's the difference between "good cholesterol" and "bad cholesterol"?
HDL is the "H-ealthy" cholesterol which helps keep the LDL "L-ousy" cholesterol from getting lodged into your artery walls. A healthy level of HDL may also protect against heart attack and stroke. HDL tends to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it's eliminated from the body. Too low of an HDL level (less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women) has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. On the other hand, when too much LDL cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart. So it's very important that you know where your numbers fall, which are easily checked during a routine cholesterol screening.
What are some lifestyle changes that can help with heart health?
Lose Weight if You Are Overweight
Even modest weight loss can reduce cholesterol levels.
Eliminate Trans Fats and Reduce Saturated Fats
Eliminate hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils that contain trans fats which may elevate LDL cholesterol. Margarine, some non-dairy spreads and typical "low calorie, diet foods" are popular sources of trans fats. Also, choose fish and skinless poultry in place of red meat and full fat dairy foods to reduce saturated fat. And watch your intake of snack foods, many of which contain high levels of saturated fats.
Include Omega-3 Fatty Foods
Increase omega-3 fatty acids from dietary sources. Salmon, herring and sardines have the highest amount of beneficial mega-3 fats. Also include omega-3 enriched eggs, ground flax seeds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds. Omega-3 fats are a type of unsaturated fatty acid that's known to help reduce inflammation throughout the body, which can damage blood vessels and lead to heart disease. Omega-3s may decrease triglycerides, blood pressure, and reduce blood clotting. Don't forget that when cooking fish, you should prepare it in healthy manner - broiling or baking fish is a healthier option than deep-frying.
Eating at least 1 ounce of nuts per day has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels. Choose from walnuts, almonds, pecans or any of your favorite raw, unsalted nuts.
Use Herbs in Place of Salt
Use ginger, rosemary, garlic and turmeric regularly, which have anti-inflammatory benefits.
The equivalent of 1-2 cloves of garlic a day has been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
Other Lifestyle Strategies
Not surprisingly, a regular routine of physical activity and stress reduction through relaxation, meditation or a similar practice are very important strategies for modifying the risk factors of stress. Although not related to diet, their importance cannot be overstated.