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Summer: A Great Time for Heart Healthy Eating

June 14, 2011

Even though there have been great advancements in cardiovascular medicine over the last few decades, heart disease is still the number one killer of Americans. More than one-quarter of all deaths in this country can be attributed to cardiovascular disease. Fortunately, each one of us has the power to help lower their risk for heart disease by adopting a heart healthy lifestyle.

"We can greatly reduce our chances of ever acquiring heart disease if we eat a proper diet," says Maggie Villagomez, a registered dietitian with the Food & Nutrition Services department at Washington Hospital. "Now, with summer on the way, it is the perfect opportunity for you to start planning, shopping for, and preparing more heart healthy foods."

At Washington Hospital, Villagomez educates patients when they’re required to be on a special diet or if they need to learn more about their nutritional needs. Along with other dietitians at the hospital, she teaches free classes to educate the community about healthy eating.

Good nutrition is part of a set of basic guidelines that contribute to heart health. These are strategies everyone should stick to all year through, not just in the summer, to prevent heart disease, stresses Villagomez:

- Maintain an ideal body weight

- Manage your blood pressure by limiting sodium in your diet. Use less salt when you cook or while you are at the table, and eat less processed and prepared foods, including canned goods, frozen entrees, processed meats, fast foods and meals "in a box."

- Decrease the amount of cholesterol and saturated and trans fats in your diet. Limit the solid fats you eat, such as butter, margarine andshortening, and use low-fat options whenever they are available.

- If you are diabetic, keep your blood sugars at optimal levels. Follow a routine of regular physical activity.

People who already have heart disease, should also stick to these same guidelines to help manage their condition.

"By doing so, you can actually slow down the progression of the disease, and this will help reduce your risk of having a heart attack or heart failure," explains Villagomez.

In our area, the abundance of fruits and vegetables available in the summertime makes eating a heart healthy diet that much easier and more delicious. These foods are a great source of vitamins and minerals, while also being low in calories and rich in fiber. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants that may help prevent heart disease, and they fill you up so you tend to eat less meat, cheese and snack foods.

"Farmers markets have become increasingly popular in our area, and they are great resources for inexpensive, quality produce that is locally grown, so you can get it at its peak flavor," observes Villagomez. "Summer is also the time when most of us love to grill, so it’s good to experiment with grilling both vegetables and fruit as alternatives to more boring side dishes."

Whether you’re barbecuing outside or cooking indoors this summer, use bold ingredients to flavor foods so you can achieve some great taste sensations without adding too many calories, Villagomez recommends. These include garlic, onions, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and even coffee. Try orange or lemon juice in your marinades, as these acidic liquids tenderize lean meats, which are often tough when cooked. Or, make a dry rub for meats, fish and poultry using cumin, thyme, allspice and even cinnamon.

You should use the leanest cuts of meat you can get, including loin cuts of beef or pork, and leaner ground beef for hamburgers. Take the skin off chicken after cooking so the meat retains moisture better.

If you are traveling this summer, rely on nutritious snacks to keep your heart healthy diet on track.

"Snacks keep you from getting so hungry that you make unhealthy meal choices," states Villagomez. "Some easy, portable snacks are a piece of fruit, snack-size portions of nuts, dried cereal, cut-up veggies like baby carrots or celery, and even half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

If you’re eating out, always look for words on the menu like "grilled, roasted, poached or broiled," she advises. Avoid "fried, battered, creamy and au gratin," which are higher in fat and salt. Ask for condiments on the side, so you can control how much goes on your food. Order vegetables as a side dish and ask that they be made without butter. Finally, don’t forget to control portion size.

"Ask for the half-size entrée, or share a meal," suggests Villagomez. "You can try ordering from the children’s menu, if it’s available."

People love fancy alcoholic beverages in the summertime, but many of these drinks don’t contribute to heart health. It’s better to choose wine, light beer or a simple cocktail made with low calorie mixers, such as water, club soda, low calorie juices, artificial sweeteners or sugar-free syrups for easy calorie savings.

"Avoid ‘desserts in disguise,’ such as pina coladas, daiquiris or anything that sounds like something you should eat!" Villagomez emphasizes.

Download Healthy Recipes

Visit www.whhs.com/nutrition to download healthy menu options endorsed by Washington Hospital’s team of registered dietitians and learn more about the Hospital’s outpatient nutrition counseling program.

Health and Wellness Catalog