Dr. Debra Judelson is a cardiologist and a scientific advisor to the Calorie Control Council. We caught up with the doctor to discuss the importance of nutrition for heart health.
Dr. Judelson, how important is nutrition to heart health?
What you eat and how much you eat has a direct impact on you and your heart’s health. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is the first place to start. Know how many calories you should consume — extra calories show up as extra pounds, which can be an extra stress on your heart. If you are overweight, reducing more calories along with exercise can get you on the path to a better weight. (The Council’s online calculators can help you determine your calorie goal — men — women.)
How can I choose the right foods and drinks?
Eating plans like D.A.S.H can help you select foods and guide how much you should eat to lower blood pressure. This plan focuses on eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts. Many of these foods are high in dietary fiber which can help lower cholesterol. You can also reduce your sodium intake to lower blood pressure: keep it to the range of 1,500-2,400 milligrams of sodium each day. That’s less than one teaspoon of salt per day, but remember that salt is often added to prepared foods so this doesn’t mean you can shake a teaspoon of salt onto your food. People with high cholesterol should also reduce saturated fat in the diet. Eating foods with saturated fats raises the cholesterol level in your blood. When your LDL cholesterol level is high, so is your risk of heart disease and stroke because it can contribute to the plaque that clogs your arteries. The American Heart Association also recommends keeping red meat and foods and beverages high in sugar to a minimum. Swapping sugar to low or no calorie sweeteners helps especially with this recommendation. That’s one of the reasons I am working with the Calorie Control Council.
What else should I look for when grocery shopping?
Talk to your doctor or dietitian to develop your goals and figure out how many calories you should be eating every day. They may also give you goals for saturated fat, trans fat and sodium. Look at the nutrition labels on packaging that show you how much of these, and other nutrients, are in each serving. While you may not find labels on fresh fruits and vegetables, you can find this information online or with many different apps. Another easy way to identify healthy food choices is to look for the Heart-Check mark on food labels. Also, check for the label of some foods with certain soluble fibers that can also reduce the risk of heart disease.
Any advice on eating healthier when eating out?
With the time constraints and pressures of raising a family with mom and dad often both at work and teenage children working as well, many are eating out. A LivingSocial survey of 4,000 adults found the average American eats almost five meals a week from a restaurant (whether fast food, casual, fine dining — carry out or dine in). Portions at restaurants may be double what you should be eating. Ask to have half of your meal packaged to take home before it even comes to the table. Check a restaurant’s menu on-line so you can decide what you want to eat ahead of time. Many restaurants also have nutrition facts labeled on menus, menu boards, pamphlets and online to help each of us make better choices.
Next time, Dr. Judelson will talk about the importance of physical activity for cardiovascular health.
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