Being Heart Smart at the Dinner Table

What you eat has an effect on how your body functions, including your heart. Changing eating habits may seem like a daunting task but it is one that can provide benefits in the long run.

Shore Physicians Group Registered Dietitian and Diabetes Educator, Tiffany Rios, RD, CDE works closely with patients, getting them on the right track to a healthier life and a healthier heart. Each individual is different. Rios said, “The first step in prescribing the right type of diet is determining what the cardiac related issue is. While it’s true most dietitians agree that the Mediterranean diet is a healthy diet, there are very important nuances related to each cardiac issue. For example, if you have congestive heart failure, sodium and fluid intake are carefully monitored. If you’re taking blood thinners such as Warfarin or Coumadin, you are most likely having your PT/INR monitored, which are biomarkers for the thickening of your blood. In this case, monitoring the quantity and eating consistent amounts of Vitamin K is necessary.” She advises patients about food and drug interactions with grapefruit. (Many drugs are broken down with the help of an enzyme in the small intestine. Grapefruit juice may block that enzyme. According to the Federal Drug Administration, instead of the drug being metabolized, more of the drug enters the blood and stays in the body longer. The result is too much of the drug in your body.) If the main problem is high cholesterol or elevated LDL, the Mediterranean diet is a great approach.

Head to the Mediterranean (diet)

“The reason the Mediterranean diet gets all the hype is that it is centered on healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil which makes it a great candidate for a heart healthy diet,” explained Rios. “What’s more, the Mediterranean diet is generally high in fiber because it promotes the intake of chickpeas and a wide array of vegetables. Since soluble fiber attaches to cholesterol in the small intestine and helps to remove it in the feces, fiber plays an important role in cholesterol reduction.”

Controlling risk factors

An important part of achieving a healthier heart is to control risk factors. Patients with type 2 diabetes need to get their A1C down. Rios said, “When I work with patients who have type 2 diabetes we co-create a tailored list of low glycemic carbohydrates and a strategy for how to balance them with proteins and healthy fats. We use the plate method to structure meals: ½ plate vegetables, ¼ protein, and ¼ healthy fat. This is a simple tool that makes portion control easier. Eating vegetables prior to the rest of the meal can also improve satiation with the meal, and help regulate appetite.”

While the plans are similar, Rios said, “The common denominator with all healthy diets is a large focus on non-starchy vegetables and plants, with a healthy balance of protein and fat.”

Diet pitfalls

When you are trying to be heart smart, there are some foods that need to be avoided. Rios said at the top of the list is trans fats. Usually identified as hydrogenated oils on packaging labels, they can wreak havoc on “good cholesterol,” or HDL that absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver where it is then flushed out with toxins. Next is fast food. While it is convenient, fast food is typically high in industrial seed oils (canola, corn, cottonseed, soy, sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, and rice bran) and traditionally loaded with excess sodium. The third healthy diet pitfall is processed foods. Rios said packaged crackers, cookies and chips are usually laden with added sugars, synthetic fats/industrial seed oils, and unbalanced micronutrients. “These foods impact your blood sugar, and when consumed in excess, can result in inflammation and even cause weight gain because they do not satiate your body and leave you hungry for more food.”

Hold the salt, please

Rios advised to watch the salt intake. She explained, “Salt is a solute (a substance that dissolves in another substance such as sugar dissolving in water) and solutes generally attract water/fluid to balance out the blood chemistry. In consuming excess sodium we are increasing the volume and pressure in the blood vessels which can also increase stress on the heart.”

How much protein is too much?

Too much of anything can be bad for you. Rios advised that too much protein, particularly from the wrong sources, can be the real problem. “Excess protein can put stress on your kidneys, and since most protein sources come from an animal, the extra cholesterol and saturated fat will not do much to help heart health. So think fried meats, including poultry, and excess saturated fats.” The Keto diet promotes a high intake of protein to achieve weight loss. So for the person who is trying to maintain a heart smart diet and lose weight, Rios suggests to patients, “Before they try the Keto diet, I encourage a modified low carbohydrate diet that emphasizes high fiber carbohydrates like beans, lentils, and berries. The standard Keto diet is 70% fats, 20% protein, and 10% carbs,” said Rios. “Since 70% is a large percentage, it is understandable that if caution is not used with the types of fats consumed, this could potentially be negative for overall heart health.”

To aid in portion control, Rios suggests a person consume a portion the size of your palm and then add slightly until you feel full. “This is a good way to determine what is the right portion for you,” said Rios. “Seeing a dietitian can be very helpful to determine your own protein needs.”

White or red?

Wine, in moderation, can be a good thing for your heart. Rios said, “Red wine has been found to have more polyphenols and resveratrol than white wine, although both are touted as heart healthy. But don’t be fooled, too much of a good thing can have diminishing returns.” She suggests women limit their intake of wine to one 5-ounce glass per day and for men, one to two 5-ounce glasses per day.

Easy heart smart diet add-ins

Rios suggested adding extra virgin olive oil, olives, and nuts, seeds such as chia and flaxseed, avocados, fatty fish such as wild caught salmon, mackerel, and sardines.

To schedule a consultation with Tiffany Rios call 609-653-5300.