Are there foods you should never eat? Not really, according to nutritionists and health experts.
“I teach my clients to never avoid any foods, especially if there is a food very dear to you,” says Laurie McGuire, RD, LDN, a registered and licensed dietitian with Unum. “Avoidance tends to lead to bingeing.”
That said, it’s best to limit certain foods and eat more of others, especially when it comes to heart health.
Keep to a minimum
Sugar: Empty calories. Instead use local, raw honey, which can build up your allergy defenses. Or try unrefined coconut sugar, which at least has low levels of micronutrients. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 6 teaspoons daily for women, 9 for men. Too much sugar raises the risk of developing heart disease. Unfortunately, sugar is in lots of things you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to be in: jarred marinara sauce and salad dressing, for example.
Salt: Too much leads to high blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, keeping it to 2,400 milligrams a day is best. Getting down to 1,500 mg is even better. If either is too difficult, cut your intake by 1,000 mg a day – even that can help. For reference: 1 teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg. Processed foods are particularly high in sodium.
Eat your heart out
Whole grains: Good source of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health, according to the Mayo Clinic. Whole-wheat bread and oatmeal are obvious choices. But have fun with grains like farro, millet and amaranth.
Fruits and vegetables: Always on the healthy list, and for good reason. They’ve got lots of vitamins and fiber. Also, substances in plants may help prevent cardiovascular disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Canola oil, walnuts, ground flaxseed and fatty fish such as salmon and sardines are good sources. Omega-3 fatty acids may lower risk of heart disease by decreasing inflammation in the body, McGuire notes. On the flip-side, avoid saturated fat (fatty meat, for example) and, even more, trans-fat (hydrogenated oils). They increase your risk of developing coronary artery disease.
Red wine: A 4-ounce glass per day can help with good (HDL) cholesterol levels, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Dark chocolate: You shouldn’t stuff yourself with it, and it needs to have at least 70 percent cacao, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It’s best if it hasn’t gone through the alkalization process, which reduces flavanols. Flavanols are your friend: They can lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the brain and heart, Cleveland Clinic notes. Hershey’s – whose chocolate goes though an alkali solution – even acknowledges this. Better bets are the brands Theo, Alter Eco and Pascha.
Strategy to get there
One way to shift into heart-healthy eating is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store, McGuire suggests. You’ll find (lean) meat, (lowfat) dairy, fruits and vegetables along the store’s outer walls.
“Limit the packaged and canned items from the middle of the store,” McGuire says. “Sometimes our lifestyles make it necessary to take advantage of convenience foods, but try not to make a habit of it and learn how to make your own healthy meals.”
These days, it’s easy to find tasty recipes online. A few keystrokes will lead you to ways to combine all sorts of foods – usually with delicious-looking pictures to entice you.
Journalist Mitra Malek has taught yoga regularly since 2006. She was a senior editor for Yoga Journal and still does research for the magazine on wellness, fitness and nutrition. Learn more at www.mitramalek.com.