Heart Smart Eating
If you grew up in the Midwest or the South, you probably got to eat some pretty delicious family meals. Years ago fried chicken, roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, dinner rolls, fried potatoes, etc. were far more common dinners than they are today. For breakfast, bacon, eggs, sausage, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, etc. were more common breakfast dishes than cereal, yogurt, oatmeal and protein bars. Although these kinds of foods are delicious, they are not nutritious.
De-Coding the Categories
We all know the basics of healthy eating—a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread is a far better choice than a cheeseburger. Fruit is a better choice than a candy bar. Low-fat yogurt is a better choice than ice cream. If you've done any research on healthy eating at all, you also know that lean meats, fiber-rich foods, nuts and seeds, low-fat dairy and "good" fats also contribute to a healthy diet. But what exactly fits into those categories?
- Lean Meats – To some people, "lean" gives "mystery meat" a whole new meaning! The American Heart Association recommends that we eat 6 oz. of lean meat daily, and that list is more inclusive than you might think. It can include any of the following, as well as some not listed here:
- Fish and shellfish, such as shrimp and crayfish.
- Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon.
- White meat chicken and turkey (without skin) and ground turkey.
- Lean cuts of beef, such as round, sirloin, chuck, loin. They also recommend buying "choice" or "select" grades of beef rather than "prime."
- Lean or extra lean ground beef (no more than 15% fat).
- Lean ham and pork cuts, such as tenderloin or loin chops.
- Low sodium processed sandwich meats such as low-fat turkey, chicken, turkey ham, turkey pastrami or lean boiled ham.
- Fruits and Vegetables – We should all be eating at least eight servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and the best advice is to mix them up! Fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are good options; however, if you choose canned fruits, make sure they are in their own juice, not heavy syrup. If you buy canned vegetables, buy the low sodium versions. Fruit juices, vegetable juices and smoothies count too, as long as they are low in sodium and sugar.
- Low-Fat Dairy – Dairy is good for strong teeth and bones, and it's not forbidden on a heart-healthy diet. According to the American Heart Association, adults should have 2-3 servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy each day and teenagers and older adults need more. Good low-fat dairy choices include skim or 1% milk, low-fat or fat-free yogurt or Greek yogurt, light soy milk, low-fat or fat-free pudding, low-fat cheeses, low-fat or fat-free frozen yogurt and low-fat or fat-free ice cream.
- Good Fats – Polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, trans fat, saturated fat…with so many different types of fats, it's hard to remember which are good and bad. Good fats include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, and they can be found in walnuts, almonds flaxseeds, olives, salmon, avocados, canola oil, olive oil and peanut butter. Check with the American Heart Association to find out how much to limit yourself to each day.
- Whole Grains – Whole grains are another tricky category. To keep them straight, remember to "avoid the whites!" Stick with whole wheat or whole grain breads, high-fiber or whole grain cereals, wild rice, brown rice, whole grain corn, oats, whole grain pasta and ground flaxseed. To be sure you are buying a true whole-grain product, check the label to be sure "whole grain" is listed before the grain or look for the American Heart Association Whole Grain Heart Check Mark on food labels.
If you think a heart-healthy diet won't fill you up, challenge yourself to eat 6 oz. of lean meat, eight cups of fruits and vegetables, 2-3 cups of low fat or fat-free dairy, 6-8 servings of whole grains, limit your fat to 25-35% of your daily calorie intake for a week, and wash it all down with 64 oz. of water each day. Notice if you felt hungry at any time. If you truly follow these guidelines and don't cheat, you might be surprised that a heart-healthy diet can be just as satisfying as a less healthy way of eating.