Protecting Your Heart
By Susan Ince
The Tasty Foods That Are Best For Your Health, And The (Easy) Workout Plan
That Really Works
For years, nutrition experts have told us that the only heart-healthy diet
was a low-fat, high-carb plan. Now they're eating their words. Last November,
the Harvard Nurses' Health Study showed that a low-carb diet can be good for
women's hearts—even if it means a higher fat intake. It all depends on the type
of fat. What's more, in a head-to-head comparison a few months earlier, Spanish
researchers reported that a higher-fat diet in the Mediterranean style cut
heart risk factors more than the standard American Heart Association (AHA)
low-fat plan. Here's what your eating plan should include:
Lots of fruits and vegetables, beans, and whole grains
All are good sources of minerals and vitamins (especially heart-healthy
antioxidants), as well as low in fat and sodium and high in fiber. Getting five
servings a day of fruits and vegetables reduces your risk of heart disease by
18.4 percent, and more servings are even better for you, according to a recent
analysis of several studies involving more than 200,000 men and women.
Little red meat
Fish, especially oily types (sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon), supply
omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower blood pressure and reduce other risk
factors for heart disease. If you're worried about mercury, keep in mind that
Harvard researchers recently calculated that the heart benefits of fish greatly
outweigh any risk. But women of childbearing age should avoid the four types
highest in mercury: swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish.
This may be a major reason why the Mediterranean diet beat out the AHA plan.
The heart association's diet limits fat, including olive oil. But the latest
research shows that olive oil's monounsaturated fat helps lower LDL (bad)
cholesterol without reducing the HDL (good) kind; low-fat dieting, on the other
hand, can lower HDL. Of course, you still need to limit saturated fats (the
kind found in red meat and whole-milk dairy products) and completely avoid
trans fats (found in some commercial baked goods and fast-food items).
These are the other major source of fat in the Mediterranean diet. Nuts
contain antioxidants and are high in healthy fat. Walnuts, for example, have
been shown to reduce dangerous triglycerides and boost heart-protecting HDL; in
fact, if you are going to indulge in a high-fat meal, including walnuts can
help minimize artery damage. Other nuts to snack on: pecans, pistachios, and
hazelnuts, says Michael Miller, M.D., director of the Center for Preventive
Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Alcohol (in moderation) raises HDL, and the grape skins used to make red
wine contain the antioxidant resveratrol, which may help prevent blood clots
and keep vessels flexible.
Don't forget that the Mediterranean lifestyle includes plenty of walking and
relaxation time. "Stress is an underestimated risk factor," says Dr.