Heart Health

When discussing the dietary causes of heart disease, there is a common misconception that too much fat increases our risk. Interestingly, when we take a look at the Mediterranean diet (shown to be the most successful diet for lowering risk of cardiovascular events) it is not low in fat. It is definitely low in saturated fat but has a moderate amount of monounsaturated fat.

The Mediterranean diet:
• Rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
• Little red meat consumption (1-2 times per month)
• High intake of fibre (25g), vegetables and fruit
• Moderate amount of whole grains
• Moderate consumption of alcohol (two alcoholic beverages for males and one for females daily)

In contrast our North American diet is high in saturated fat, lower in monounsaturated/polyunsaturated fats, red meat consumption averages 3-4 times per week, has a low intake of fibre (15 g or less), low intake of vegetables and fruit and excessive intake of carbohydrates.

It looks like we have some room for improvement. But where should we begin?

This may come as a bit of a shock but forget the fat, we need to start looking at how many carbohydrate-rich foods we consume. The average person I see in my practice eats 1-2 servings of vegetables and 1 serving of fruit each day. If people are not eating vegetables and fruit, what do you think they are filling up on? You guessed it— carbohydrates! We fill up on them morning, noon and night-not to mention all the in between carbohydrate rich snacks.

I am not advocating for a low carbohydrate diet, they simply do not work. I am saying that we need to work at bringing our consumption under control. Reducing our intake of excessive carbohydrates will reduce our risk of heart disease as well as diabetes and cancer.

Sadly the carbohydrate rich foods like bagels, breads, cereals, cookies, cakes, pastries, granola bars, etc are all made with highly processed grains. These foods give our body an instant sugar rush that makes us keep coming back for more.

Let’s face it we are addicted!

Furthermore, the carbs we buy at the grocery store are often not in appropriate serving sizes (one serving is 15g.) Here is what I discovered on a trip to my local grocery store.

An average bagel has 55g of carbohydrates (equivalent to 3.6 servings of carbohdrates/grains). An average slice of bread has 20g of carbohydrates. An extra 5g of carbohydrates is nothing in the big picture right??? Well many researchers would disagree. Our obesity epidemic-which is a leading cause of heart disease-is partially due to as little as 50 extra calories per day. If you have 2 slices of toast at breakfast and a sandwich at lunch you have already consumed an extra 20g of carbohydrates which is equal to 80kcal and it’s only noon. Throw in the carb-heavy snack at 3pm and the large bag of popcorn at the movie and you are well beyond your daily allotment for carbohydrates/grains (and I didn’t even mention dinner!)

So here is my challenge to you. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3….
1. Keep track of your diet for a week and see how many servings of carbohydrates/grains you eat in a week. If you are serious about making changes to lower you risk of heart disease journaling will help you frame your current situation and give you the necessary information you need to make informed decisions.
2. Count the number of servings of vegetables you eat each day. One serving of vegetables is either 1 cup of lettuce/ spinach or ½ cup of cut up vegetables (raw/cooked).
3. Decrease your servings of carbohydrates if in excess, and increase your servings of vegetables. Gradually work up to a goal of 2 cups of raw or cooked vegetables at lunch and supper. Try the balanced plate concept. Fill half of your plate with vegetables and ¼ with meat and ¼ with carbohydrates/grains.

While we have only covered a few of the important dietary tips essential for reducing your risk of heart disease, the takeaway is:
Carbohydrates in appropriate portions can be a part of a heart smart diet. Eat them in moderation and you will amazed at the difference in your health!