Heart Healthy Eating

By Lynn Roblin MSc.RD.

Eating better for your heart’s sake makes good sense. The changes you make now can have huge payoffs down the road when it comes to your heart health.

Over the past 10 years, research has demonstrated that healthy eating practices are a major contributing factor in preventing heart disease and stroke. But most Canadians eat too much fat and not enough whole grains, vegetables and fruit.

If this sounds like you, you may want to start making some changes to the way you shop, cook and eat. If you think your eating habits are way out of line, don’t despair! Making a few small changes now and adding other healthier eating habits as you go along is a great way to start.

Switching to a lower-fat, higher-carbohydrate diet isn’t enough to promote good heart health. A heart-healthy lifestyle must also include regular physical activity. At least thirty minutes of daily moderate physical activity is recommended. Reducing stress levels, limiting alcohol intake and stopping smoking are also necessary for good heart health.

Here are the basics of a heart-healthy diet.

  • Make carbohydrates such as whole grain breads, pasta, rice, vegetables, fruit and beans the mainstay of your daily diet. These foods should account for about three-quarters of every meal or snack you eat. High carbohydrate foods are your best bet for a healthy heart and a healthier weight. High carbohydrate foods also provide fibre, which is essential for good heart health
  • Eat 5-12 servings of whole grain products and 5-10 servings of vegetables and fruit each day.
  • Look for whole-grain breads and cereals by checking labels to see that a whole-grain flour such as whole wheat is listed first on the ingredient list. Cereals made with wheat or oat bran are higher in fibre than other cereals so eat these more often. Hot cereals such as oatmeal and Red River cereal are also higher fibre choices.
  • Try some new grain products such as amaranth, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, cornmeal, wheat berries, bulgur, whole wheat couscous, or brown rice. Toss cooked grains with cooked vegetables such as sweet red peppers, green peas, mushrooms and green onions, and mix in a bit of low-fat or olive oil based salad dressing.
  • Have meals made with beans, peas and lentils several or more times a week. Add canned kidney beans, black beans, chick peas or lentils to rice, pasta, salads, soups or casseroles
  • When choosing vegetables and fruit go for the dark green, red and orange ones most often. These colourful foods are packed with powerful antioxidant nutrients that play a role in preventing heart disease. Spinach, kale, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, red and green peppers, cantaloupe, oranges, tomatoes, mangoes and peaches are some of best choices.
  • Keep your total fat intake to less than 30 per cent of daily calories. For men that means 90 grams of fat or less each day. Women should aim for 65 grams of fat or less each day.
  • When you do eat fat, choose heart-friendly types such as olive, canola, safflower, corn, soybean, and soft tub margarine made from these oils.
  • Eat less butter, lard, organ meats, coconut and palm oils, and foods made with hydrogenated vegetable oils
  • Use lower-fat cooking methods such as baking, broiling, roasting, boiling, grilling, microwaving and stir-frying in a non-stick skillet.
  • Buy skim or 1% milk, and cottage cheese or yogurt made with 1% fat or less. Use milk in your coffee instead of cream on non-dairy creamers or powders. Try a new low-fat cheese or use stronger flavoured cheeses in smaller amounts.
  • Trim the fat from meat and remove the skin from chicken before cooking it. Choose leaner cuts of meat and deli-meats such as lean roast beef, ham, chicken or turkey.
  • Incorporate meat alternatives into your weekly meals such as veggie burgers or a tofu-based chili, lasagna or stir-fry
  • Eat fish more often, especially salmon, mackerel, or trout, and choose canned fish packed in water instead of oil.
  • Use less salt in cooking and baking and taste your food before you salt it. Your body needs some salt but most of us get far more than we need. For some people, especially those with high blood pressure, too much salt can be a problem.
  • Season foods with lemon, garlic, onions, mustard, spices and seasonings instead of salt. Ginger, curry, nutmeg, thyme, parsley, cumin and coriander all pack a lot of flavour.
  • Cut back on salty foods such as bacon, salami, bologna, hot dogs, pickles, sauerkraut, canned or dried soups, and salted snack foods. Read labels and choose the reduced salt products whenever possible.

Here are some great resources that will help you on your way to heart-healthy eating. They were all produced in cooperation with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

HeartSmart Cooking for Family and Friends (Random House Canada, 2000) by Bonnie Stern provides great recipes, menus and ideas for casual entertaining.

The HeartSmart Shopper (Douglas & McIntyre, 1997) by Ramona Josephson provides practical tips for heart-healthy shopping, reading labels and fat budgeting.

The Lighthearted Cookbook (Key Porter Books, 1988) and Lighthearted Everyday Cooking (Macmillan, 1991) by Anne Lindsay are perfect for preparing family-pleasing heart healthy meals. These cookbooks contain easy-to-prepare recipes for all occasions.

Simply HeartSmart Cooking (Random House 1994) and More HeartSmart Cooking (Random House, 1997) by Bonnie Stern will help you eat to your heart’s content. They include many delicious recipes to help you eat more grains, vegetables, fish, beans, peas and lentils.

HeartSmart Chinese Cooking (Douglas & McIntyre) by Stephen Wong includes over 75 easy-to-prepare recipes that are heart-friendly and taste great too!

HeartSmart Flavours of India Cookbook (Douglas & McIntyre, 1998) by Krishna Jamal includes over 100 healthy traditional Indian recipes. For vegetarians, it provides an abundance of new main course recipes.

For more information and resources on heart-healthy living visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and Healthcheck.