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Protecting Your Heart


WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Susan Ince

Good Housekeeping Magazine LogoThe 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.

Olive oil

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).

Nuts

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.

Wine

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. Miller.

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