Whole Foods for Heart Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. About 600,000 deaths in the United States each year are attributed to heart disease, that’s one in every four deaths. Coronary heart disease alone costs the American public almost $109 billion each year. Our rising obesity and diabetes trends also play an important role in our nations continuing epidemic of illness.

Our diets have changed more in the last 100 years than in the last 10,000. If you asked your grandmother what she bought at the grocery store, what would she say? What kinds of things did her mother buy? I know that my grandmother wasn’t buying neon colored cereal or mac and cheese from the box for my mom. I remember standing on a stool in my grandparents’ kitchen at four years of age teaching my grandfather the magic of mixing orange powder with milk to make creamy cheese. This was completely new to him!

Most of our food today comes from factories instead of farms. Food is now processed, packaged, labeled with various health claims and strategically placed on grocery shelves at eye level (or our children’s eye level when it comes to that neon colored cereal). We have replaced butter with processed margarine and sugar with high fructose corn syrup because we thought they were the healthier and cheaper options. But, despite buying foods that are labeled “low fat,” “heart healthy,” and “all natural” we are becoming sicker and fatter than ever before. This food is making us very sick and our heart health is suffering significantly.

The way we are eating and living is clearly not working. In our ongoing quest to make food healthier we’ve neglected to notice that food already IS healthy. I’m not talking about sugar free drinks, low fat yogurt or even a package of kale chips. The best foods for our heart and overall health are the whole, unprocessed, unrefined foods that nature is providing us. Brown rice and quinoa, leafy greens and Brussels sprouts, squashes and parsnips, apples and avocados, real butter and olive oil — these whole foods provide you with all the vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, antioxidants and fiber you need to keep your arteries clear and your heart pumping strong. Remember, factories cannot create healthier food than nature.

To get you started here are three tips for eating for heart health:

  • Skip the Sugar: on average Americans consume 75-100 pounds of sugar each year in the forms of white cane sugar, beet sugar, high fructose corn syrup and others. Studies have shown that sugar suppresses the immune system, causes arterial inflammation and is highly addictive. Sugar is not just in your favorite candy bar – it is hidden in everything from deli meat to applesauce. Start reading labels and avoid sugar in places where it shouldn’t be. Sugar in soup? No thank you! Save your sugar intake for occasional sweet treats instead.

  • Focus on Fiber: In the past we thought fiber was just helpful for making toilet time a little easier. While this is true, fiber also acts like a cholesterol “sponge” soaking up cholesterol-laden bile salts in the small intestine and eliminating them through the bowels. Soluble fiber in particular is great for supporting heart health. Foods rich in soluble fiber include oatmeal, beans, legumes, peas, carrots, pears and citrus fruits. Try to eat fiber rich foods at every meal, including snacks!

  • Get Cooking: When we cook more at home we eat healthier, less processed meals by default. Restaurant and take-out food is full of inflammatory fats, preservatives and loads of salt — 75 percent of our salt intake comes from eating out! You can start by simply making a big pot of soup, stew or chili on a Sunday night to eat for supper during the week. Start packing your lunches at least 2-3 times per week. Go to the library and check out one or two cookbooks for inspiration. Get your kids involved and ask them to help you re-create their favorite restaurant meal at home.