In the game of life, there are already so many sacrifices one is forced to make. This is especially true for anyone wanting to shed pounds or eat healthier. Perhaps that's why I've often heard myself telling clients, complete strangers, and myself that every food can fit into a healthy diet. But in reality, there are some foods that really should not cross our lips. This week, as we focus on love and--in my mind--heart health, here's a list of foods that should be making their way out of your pantry. Not to worry, in order to stay on the positive side and not be penned as the "food police," I've included a list of heart-healthy foods that should be making their way into your heart. Saturated Fat
Sure, we all know that we really need to cut back on artery-clogging saturated fats, but do we really know why and how much we might be able to sneak in? Research has found that a diet loaded with saturated fat leads to higher total cholesterol levels, higher levels of LDL cholesterol, and an increased risk of heart disease. 'Nuff said. You can improve your overall heart health and reduce your risk of disease by eliminating high-saturated-fat foods like full-fat dairy (replace with low-fat instead), highly marbled cuts of beef, poultry with the skin on (if you cook with the skin on, remove prior to eating), loads of butter and bacon, and tropical oils, such as coconut and palm. How much is too much? According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, limit your intake to no more than 10 percent of your total calories, and replace the saturated fat with more heart-healthy choices, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. In other words, if you are following a 2000-calorie diet, limit to less than 22 grams of saturated fat per day.Trans Fat
Here's where your favorite junk food may need to get the boot. Many of the foods occupying interior aisles of the grocery store contain preserving, stabilizing trans fats since these fats are incredibly shelf-stable and made to live, well, forever. Your goal, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, is to keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible. You can do this by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats and by limiting other solid fats. Why should you care? Trans fats are often considered more dangerous to your health than saturated fats, since higher intakes have been found to decrease HDL cholesterol levels but raise total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels (and ultimately your risk for cardiovascular disease).
Because trans fats are so volatile, it's recommended that you limit your intake to no more than 1 percent of total calories, which means if you're following a 2000-calorie diet, less than two grams per day.
You can keep your intake in check by glancing at the nutrition facts panel on your favorite snack foods and choosing items that contain 0 grams per serving. Be warned: If a food has less than 0.5 grams per serving, it's going to consider itself "trans fat free." But half a gram here, half a gram there, and pretty soon you've consumed more than what's recommended. So be sure to check the ingredient panel for terms like "partially hydrogenated oils," which hint at the product containing traces of trans fat.Sodium
Sure, we runners sweat a lot, and for those out there cranking out the miles while caked in salty sweat, reducing sodium intake may not be a priority. But for the general population, this is a nutrient that should be reduced. In fact, it's recommended that we reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. (Learn just how much sodium your body needs.)
This 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children and the majority of adults. Unfortunately, we are nowhere near hitting this target since the estimated average intake of sodium for all Americans aged 2 years and older is approximately 3,400 mg per day.
Why should you care? In most settings, the higher an individual's sodium intake, the higher the individual's blood pressure. The higher the blood pressure levels, the higher the risk of cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. While it's safe to assume that many active runners have blood pressure levels in the healthy range, it's certainly worth a chat with your doctor to see if perhaps your intake should be downsized. Most of the sodium in our diets comes from processed foods (canned soups, crackers, etc.), and it also builds up throughout the day as we consume breads, chicken dishes, pizza, and pastas. You can lower your intake by checking food labels, choosing low-sodium or no-sodium-added foods, and by choosing fresh items over conventional canned items.
In addition to those listed above, there are certainly some other foods that we should be limited, no matter how hot your furnace may be burning. But since one can only take so much of "don't eat that"- and "that's no good for you"-type preaching, here are a few heart-boosting foods that should actually be added to your daily dose of fuel.
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3s are inflammation-fighting powerhouses and include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). You can find EPA and DHA in fatty fish (such as cod, halibut, mackerel, and salmon) and enriched eggs. ALA is a plant-derived fatty acid and can be found in flaxseeds; walnuts; canola, soybean, and flaxseed oils; and vegetable oil-based soft spreads. Why should you add in more omega 3s? Higher intakes have been found to result in a decreased rate of cardiac death and heart attacks and may also reduce triglyceride levels.
Recent research looking at long-term diets rich in omega 3s and published in the journal Atherosclerosis found that the greater the intake of Omega 3s, the lower the risk of total cardiovascular disease mortality.
Along with fatty fish and flaxseed, runners also get the green light to add in as many servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grain oats, and legumes as their hearts desire (well, within reason of course). Not only are these foods rich in cholesterol-crushing soluble and insoluble fiber, but they also contain antioxidants, phytochemicals, and many yet-to-be-discovered compounds that offer a wealth of health benefits to runners. See? Some foods really do fit!