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3 Things You Don’t Know About Heart Health, But You Should

Heart health is a popular topic as organizations around the world recognize Heart Month in February. Even with so much recognition and publicity, there are key strategies to living a healthy lifestyle that are overlooked.

So, we took it to the experts.

We talked with Lisa Roberson, National Director of Wellness for Morrison Healthcare, and Chef Jay Ziobrowski, Corporate Research and Development Chef for Morrison Healthcare. They provided some key guidance for heart health, focusing on 3 Things You Don’t Know About Heart Health, But You Should.

1. Whole Grains Are a Must

The key here is distinguishing between whole and refined grains. As the name states, whole grains contain the entire grain, while refined grains have been ground into flour or mill, which takes out some nutritious elements, while giving it a finer texture and longer shelf life.

In contrast, whole grains are:

  • A good source of dietary fiber, which can improve cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and obesity.
  • A good source of key nutrients and vitamins that are important for boosting the immune system and ensure your body is working to its fullest potential.

“Whole grains are such a great source of fiber,” said Roberson. “That fiber allows your food to digest slower, which makes your body work harder. It’s an important step in living a healthy lifestyle.”

Roberson recommends checking labels to ensure you are buying 100 percent whole grain products and not something that contains partly or entirely refined grains.

“You don’t have to eat your grains plain,” said Chef Ziobrowski. “There are lots of ways to add flavor to a meal focused on whole grains. I have found some exciting ways to incorporate cilantro that really boost the flavor of the dish and still keep it heart healthy.”

Chef Ziobrowski also recommends trying types of whole grains you may not be used to cooking with like farro and quinoa. A particular favorite is freekeh, which has approximately four times the fiber of rice.

2. Fat is OK, if its Healthy Fat

Not all fats are created equal. In many ways, fats get a bad name. Saturated fats should be severely limited, but there are some fats that are healthy. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are considered good fats.

Let’s look at some examples of each:

  • Saturated fats: red meat, whole milk, cheese, coconut oil, commercially prepared baked goods
  • Monounsaturated fats: olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, most nuts
  • Polyunsaturated fats: corn oil, sunflower oil, salmon, walnuts

Just like any food, fats should be used in moderation, but good fats can be the cornerstone of a healthy diet.

“Incorporating good fats into your diet is all about education,” said Roberson. “I love working with patients and families to better understand the benefits of healthy fats and how they can make easy changes at home that will have a major impact on their diet and health.”

“There are so many ways to incorporate healthy fats into a dish,” said Chef Ziobrowski. “You can add avocado or salmon to a dish to give it a dose of protein and healthy fats. I also like to cook with avocado oil. It has a great flavor, plus it has a high flash point which can be useful when cooking.”

3. Eating Sweet Without Adding Sugar

Sugar is everywhere. It’s in rice. It’s in potatoes. It’s in just about any starch. Most people know that at this point, but we’re talking about added sugar. Many commercially prepared products will add significant amounts of sugar to draw in more consumers.

But sugar can be extremely harmful to our health, increasing the risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. According to the American Heart Association, the guidelines for daily added sugar are:

  • Men—9 teaspoons or 36 grams
  • Women—6 teaspoons or 25 grams

To put that in perspective, a single peanut butter cup has 19 grams of added sugar. That is nearing the daily limit for an individual.

“Reducing added sugar is about reading the labels,” said Roberson. “We need to take more time to read the food labels to understand what we’re putting in our bodies. In the case of sugar, we should limit ‘added sugar’ and find other ways to get our sweet fix.”

There are options when it comes to satisfying your taste buds. Chef Ziobrowski looks to in-season fruits for his sweet tooth. Dark chocolate, honey, and agave syrup are other ways to get a dose of sweetness without putting added sugar into your body.

“I get excited about finding creative ways to make tasty treats that are still heart-healthy,” said Chef Ziobrowski. “By focusing on seasonal fruit and items that don’t require added sugar to taste good, we can make healthier choices. I have a milkshake that I like to make for my daughter that only has four ingredients: strawberries, bananas, cooked quinoa, and coconut milk. It’s sweet and healthy.”

Improving heart health should be a goal for everyone, but change does not happen overnight. Our bodies need to get accustomed to new eating habits. Roberson recommends eating mindfully and slowly, plus educating yourself about what you put in your body.

Your taste buds and your heart will thank you.

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