DEAR DOCTOR K: What are the basic tenets of a heart-healthy diet?
DEAR READER: I once had a patient who had a history of heart disease in his family. When he first came to see me, he was in his late 20s. He knew that having heart disease in his family put him at higher risk for it later in life. He told me he had decided to do something to protect himself: He had consulted a cardiologist.
As for his lifestyle, he had done nothing. Zip. Nada. Hadn’t changed his diet and never exercised. Of course he had heard (“ad nauseam,” he said) advice from his doctor and from people (like me) who write about a healthy lifestyle. “I first heard that stuff from my kindergarten teacher,” he said, “and I’ve been hearing it ever since.” But he thought it was all sanctimonious preaching.
It’s not sanctimonious preaching; it’s solid science. There are thousands of studies, involving hundreds of thousands of people, whose diets and health histories have been catalogued over (collectively) millions of years.
What do those studies say? A heart-healthy diet may reduce your risk of a heart attack by 73 percent compared to a typical American diet of meat, cheese and high-fat desserts.
What do I mean by “heart-healthy diet”? Here are the basics:
• WATCH YOUR FATS. Eliminate trans fats from your diet. Limit saturated fat.
• CHOOSE WHOLE GRAINS. Replace refined carbohydrates (such as white bread and white rice) with whole-grain varieties.
• EAT MEAT SPARINGLY.. Relegate meat to a minor part of your diet. Avoid fatty cuts of beef, pork and lamb.
• OPT FOR LOW-FAT DAIRY PRODUCTS.
• CHOOSE HEALTHY COOKING OILS.. Good choices include canola, sunflower, safflower, corn, soybean, olive and peanut oils.
• REDUCE DIETARY CHOLESTEROL.. Strive to eat less than 200 milligrams a day.
• EAT MORE FIBER..
• ADD FISH TO YOUR DIET.
• REDUCE SALT INTAKE.
• DRINK ALCOHOL ONLY IN MODERATION. That means no more than one drink a day for women, and one or two drinks a day for men.