& Joannie Dobbs Monday,
Heart health requires a varied diet
We are often asked questions such as, "What are the Top 10 foods for preventing heart disease?" Because every major food group contains foods that contribute to heart health, we are hesitant to come up with such a list. Eating a wide variety of foods in a balanced fashion is probably more important.
Most Americans eat from a rather limited number of foods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Healthy Eating Index uses variety as one of 10 components to rate diet quality. To obtain the top score, a diet must include at least eight different types of foods. In comparison, the goal in Japan is to consume at least 30 different types of foods each day!
Question : Are there really heart-healthy foods in every food group?
Answer : Yes. Here is a summary:
» Grains, especially whole grains, contain dietary fiber and other beneficial components associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. A reasonable intake of a variety of these foods can help reduce risk factors such as high blood cholesterol and high homocysteine.
A more recently recognized risk factor is elevated blood level of a compound called C-reactive protein. A recent study reported that grain intake was the only diet component associated with reduced C-reactive protein levels. This study certainly raises new questions about the long-term effects of low-carb diets.
But overdo the grain group and you may end up with excessive carbohydrate and calories. This tends to raise blood triglyceride levels -- another risk factor for heart disease.
» Fruits and vegetables are often billed as heart-healthy superstars, as they contribute fiber and other components that benefit the heart -- folic acid, vitamin B-6, vitamin C, beta-carotene, potassium and special phytochemicals and antioxidants, to mention a few. Fruits and vegetables provide folic acid and vitamin B-6, two vitamins that reduce homocysteine risk.
» Adequate calcium intake is associated with reduced blood pressure. Also, calcium, and milk or yogurt in particular, may help with weight control. Go for lower-fat or non-fat versions, and go easy on cheese, as it can contain too much total fat and saturated fat.
» Meats confer many benefits -- really! Lean meats provide important B vitamins, especially B-12, along with iron and other trace minerals such as zinc. Low iron status may increase the risk of heart attack after surgery in seniors. This may be related to the fact that iron is needed for the synthesis of carnitine, a substance especially important for heart function.
Beans and other legumes, also part of the meat group, are a great source of dietary fiber, some B vitamins and protein.
Foods from each group are like superstars playing different positions on a team. If just one is missing, the odds of winning decline.
Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S. and Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.
are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences,
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa.
Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Service
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