Local Experts Share Recommendations For Heart-Healthy Foods

Plus, a note on the ins and outs of heart disease.

Obesity, hypertension, and high cholesterol affect millions of people who may be surprised to learn that just a few small changes to their diets can have a tremendous effect on their cardiac health. We asked three local nutrition experts for their recommendations on heart-healthy diets and how to stick with an eating plan that is both feasible and beneficial. 

Jacqui Justice, MS, CNS, a functional nutritionist with offices in Rye, Harrison, and Eastchester, says that, “For heart health, and health in general, I like a true Paleo Diet, which is made up of lean, high-quality protein; lots of non-starchy, high-fiber veggies; low-glycemic fruits (berries); nuts and seeds.  It’s a great weight-loss diet and is anti-inflammatory, as well, which is very important for the heart. Studies have shown that a ‘caveman diet’ helps to balance blood sugar by increasing sensitivity to insulin, which in turn has a cholesterol-lowering effect. It also helps to lower blood pressure and triglycerides and cut the risk of Type 2 diabetes, all risk factors for heart disease.” 

Ilia Regini, a local consultant, chef, speaker, and teacher on the subject of nutritional and healing foods, points her clients to “alkalizing grains such as amaranth and quinoa; dark, leafy greens such as kale, mustard greens, mizuna, and dandelion; and cooked cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage.” 

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Sometimes a more inclusive diet is easier to stick to than a set of approved foods. Ilyse Schapiro, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietician with a private practice in Harrison and Greenwich, recommends her patients adopt the Mediterranean Diet, “which consists of eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts; using olive oil instead of butter; and limiting red meat and consuming mainly fish and poultry,” says Schapiro. She also recommends eating foods rich in omega-3s, such as fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds.

Chia seeds are high in antioxidants, fiber, and quality protein. 

Another diet Schapiro recommends is the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which has been proven to lower blood pressure in studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. “It is very similar to the Mediterranean Diet, but it also emphasizes dairy and foods rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and protein.”

However, both Schapiro and Regini recommend staying away from certain foods regardless of what diet you adopt. “Most definitely steer away from canola oil and replace it with extra-virgin olive oil that is deep green in color,” says Regini. “It is also important to stay away from all fried and deep-fried foods, including salty chips.” 

All three experts agree that planning meals and snacks is important, and eating breakfast is essential.  

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Heart Disease

What is it, who gets it, and how to prevent it. 

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, taking the lives of more than 600,000 people here annually; in fact, in the US, someone dies of heart disease every 84 seconds. Worldwide, it accounts for more than 17.3 million deaths per year, and that number is on the rise. But what, exactly, is heart disease? It actually is a general term for a number of heart conditions, including coronary artery disease, which can cause heart attacks. Though anyone can get heart disease, risk factors include diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Smoking, being sedentary and eating unhealthily further increases risk. Lifestyle changes (eating heart-healthy foods, exercising, not smoking) and medications can prevent and/or treat heart disease.  For statistics and info on how to prevent and treat heart disease, visit www.heart.org.

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