Heart disease runs in my family, so I try to eat a heart-healthy diet. Lately I’ve been hearing low-fat foods are out. Are there other foods I should be concentrating on now?
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, and it’s true that the old advice for combatting it was to eat more low-fat foods. Now, the focus has shifted to choosing the right fats, rather than just reducing total fat. Too often in the past, “low-fat foods” meant highly processed replacements for “regular” versions, and people ended up overconsuming foods high in sugar. Such foods don’t promote heart health, and for many, they may have led to weight gain and other health problems. Today, health providers know that a balanced diet rich in produce, whole grains, and primarily plant-based fats provides the best shot at overall health. And guess what? There’s even room for a small amount of dark chocolate!
Filling your plate with abundant amounts of produce keeps the calories low and the nutrients high. Satisfying meals help you keep your weight within a healthy range, which is a key step to reducing your risk of heart disease. Whole grains, such as barley and farro (or quinoa, which is technically a seed), are also a great source of vitamins and minerals. Like fruits and vegetables, they offer fiber, which is linked closely to heart health.
Enjoying primarily plant-based fats with your meals, such as olive oil, nuts, seeds (and the oils made from pressing them), and avocado, is another way to boost satisfaction and promote heart health. (The jury is still out on coconut oil, however, due to its high levels of saturated fat.) Choosing these types of fats and oils more often than those in processed foods, baked goods, and fattier cuts of red meat can have a positive impact on your heart. That’s not to suggest you’re limited to only plant-based fats. Consuming fatty but heart-healthy fish such as salmon and sardines can play a beneficial supporting role in a diet otherwise based in produce and whole grains. If you do choose to eat red meat on occasion (12 ounces per week or less is recommended), look for leaner cuts of grass-finished beef, which contain a higher amount of omega-3’s, a heart-healthy fat.
Finally, let’s not forget the chocolate! Dark chocolate — comprising at least 60% cocoa solids or higher — has been demonstrated to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits that support heart health. The key is to enjoy dark chocolate in moderation (about 1 ounce per day), as large portions and higher-sugar versions will not have the same beneficial effects and can lead to eating excess calories.
In summary, balance your total fat intake with your energy needs, focus primarily on plant-based fat sources — and enjoy a little chocolate, too!
About Ask Mickey: At Bon Appétit, we know there’s a lot on your plate that you worry about. Making good food choices helps you avoid unwanted pounds, work or study (and sleep!) better, and form long-lasting healthy eating habits. In the Ask Mickey column, Bon Appétit Management Company Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Lulu Cook offer tips on “chewing the right thing” and answers your nutrition questions. (Mickey, aka Michelina, is a particular feisty Italian grandmother who continues to inspire us.) Email your questions and feedback to [email protected].