How do you eat for a healthy heart when there are so many different ways to eat, so many different diets and so many opinions? As an integrative cardiologist who emphasizes the healing power of food, I have been asked that question many times. My answer is based on what I've learned over nearly four decades in a medical practice dedicated to optimum health as well as what I've learned in the kitchen as an avid cook.
Julia Child gives us a great starting point. "You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients," she said. I would add organic, if possible, to minimize your intake of assorted toxins and pesticides.
By heat, I don't mean the weather. I mean chronic inflammation, a major factor in the aging process. Today, researchers regard inflammation as the source of multiple serious diseases, including cardiovascular disease. Bodies are afire!
My dietary approach aims to help put out the fire and bolster your body's ability to defend against the destructive inflammation that leads to cardiovascular disease. The best foods to do that are found in traditional Mediterranean or Asian diets. They're superbly anti-inflammatory because they're generally low glycemic (low sugar), antioxidant rich, high fiber and contain healthy fats.
When you eat excess refined carbs, your body releases excess insulin. The short-term effect is weight gain, as you store excess carbs as fat. Over time the stakes get higher: a constant high tide of blood sugar and insulin leads to insulin resistance, a forerunner to type 2 diabetes and obesity, damaged blood vessels, and cardiovascular trouble.
Additionally, too much sugar can also rear its ugly head on the outside as well as the inside. Advanced glycation end products, created when sugars interact with proteins, cause premature wrinkling of the skin.
My favorite heart-healthy foods actually serve your whole body well. They include:
Want to get the benefits of these five favorites in one meal? Make a chopped raw kale and spinach salad; add steamed asparagus, avocado and onion; and toss with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Serve it with poached wild Alaskan salmon.
My heart-healthy recommendations also include anti-inflammatory foods like nuts (think walnuts, almonds and macadamias), brown rice, soups, fish and vegetable stews. With a main meal, I like a side salad or vegetables drizzled with olive oil.
Whenever possible, steam your food. Use ample amounts of lemons, basil, parsley, watercress, and lots of garlic and onions. All are heart healthy. Plus, minimize the use of salt and pepper.
Board-certified cardiologist Dr. Stephen T. Sinatra is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in Farmington, CT and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine in Biddeford, ME. Certified as a bioenergetic psychotherapist and nutrition and anti-aging specialist, he integrates psychological, nutraceutical and electroceutical therapies in the matrix of healing.
Dr. Sinatra is the founder of www.heartmdinstitute.com, an informational website dedicated to promoting public awareness of integrative medicine. In addition, he is a fellow in the American College of Cardiology and the American College of Nutrition. His latest book, The Great Cholesterol Myth Cookbook, includes a variety of heart-healthy recipes.
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