Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. A diet high in fat and sodium and low in nutrients and fiber can contribute to this epidemic. Changing how we cook the foods we enjoy can play an important role in reducing our risk of developing heart disease.
WHAT AILS US 4
You’ve heard the saying “If Momma isn’t happy, nobody’s happy.” For our purposes, let’s amend that to “If your heart isn’t happy, your body isn’t happy.” Many ailments that Americans struggle
with have a direct impact on heart health. Obesity, high blood pressure, and inflammation can all contribute to heart disease. The foods we choose to eat directly affect our health. Consuming too much sodium can increase the risk for developing high blood pressure. Eating too much of the wrong types of fat can contribute to obesity. And chronic low-grade inflammation, which is the body’s way of responding to foreign invaders such as viruses, can lead to plaque development that clogs your arteries. These ailments can also increase your risk of stroke, diabetes, and even cancer. By focusing on keeping your heart healthy, you automatically decrease your risk of developing other debilitating diseases.
Healthy meals for the heart
There are many definitions of the word healthy as it pertains to food and your diet, depending on your health concerns and dietary needs. Some people reduce their carbohydrate intake. Others eat only organic foods. Some eliminate entire categories of foods, such as dairy, grains, or legumes.
In this article, we abide by the American Heart Association’s (AHA) definition of nourishing, healthy food: low in fat, high in nutrients and fiber, and low in sodium. While the AHA no longer recommends a low-fat diet, it does say that Americans should replace saturated fats and trans fats with healthier fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Most adults should consume about 13 grams of saturated fat a day, which, on a 2,000-calorie-a-day-diet, is 5 to 6 percent of calories from saturated fat. And the AHA recommends the acceptable macronutrient distribution range, issued by the Health and Medicine Division, part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, in 2002. This recommended range, for adults, is 20 to 35 percent of calories from fat.
One tool in the AHA’s recommendations is DASH—Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is known as the “silent killer” because usually there are no symptoms. Many Americans don’t even know they have it. Thus, the AHA recommends consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, and preferably 1,500 milligrams per day or fewer. To put that in perspective, one-quarter teaspoon of salt contains 575 milligrams of sodium. Sugars are another concern. Eating a lot of sugar can increase your risk for heart disease and contributes to inflammation in the body. There kinds of sugar:
1 Glucose: the main building block of carbohydrates
2 Fructose: the sugar found in fruits
3 Sucrose: granulated sugar
Most recipes use two kinds of sugar:
1 Naturally occurring sugars (fructose) from fruits and some vegetables
2 Added Sugars
Most added sugars in American diets are in soft drinks, candy, cakes, cookies, pies, and some dairy products such as sweetened yogurt. Those sugars have no nutritional value other than calories. Added sugars include brown sugar, white sugar, honey, molasses, and corn syrup; those products have lots of sucrose.
The AHA recommends that men limit their intake of added sugars to 36 grams (9 teaspoons)
per day; women should limit their intake to 24 grams (6 teaspoons) per day.
Naturally occurring sugars, such as fructose, are not as bad for you as added sugars. Those natural sugars come packaged with lots of vitamins A and C and fiber. And the fiber helps slow your body’s processing of sugar, which decreases the rate at which your blood sugar rises. That may help prevent the development of diabetes.
The AHA also recommends that Americans reduce the number of calories they eat. Most people should eat about 2,000 calories a day, depending on age, sex, and level of physical activity. You should eat a variety of foods, with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, poultry, fish, low-fat dairy products, nuts, legumes, and vegetable oils. Choose foods that are high in fiber, avoid trans fats (more on this fat later) and saturated fat, and cut back on sugar consumption.
On this diet, every day, you should eat:
. Dairy (low fat): two or three servings
. Fats and oils: two or three servings
. Fruit: four or five servings
. Vegetables: four or five servings
. Meat, poultry, and fish: six or fewer servings
. Grains: about six servings
And, if you are serious about improving your health, it’s worth your while to make sure you understand exactly what a “serving” is (see Resources, here). Most Americans think a serving is much larger than it actually is. For example:
Bread: One serving is one (1-ounce) slice
Fruit: One serving is one piece