A Heart-Smart Diet: Fat, Sugar, and the Conflicting Reports on Eating Well

Sunrise Senior Living  |  April 13, 2018
A Heart-Smart Diet: Fat, Sugar, and the Conflicting Reports on Eating Well
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The obesity rate in our country has reached epidemic status. In fact, health experts say the numbers are “astronomical.” As the number of people—young and old—who meet the clinical definition of obesity continues to climb, so too does the rate of heart disease. That’s no coincidence.

What causes obesity?

Researchers say there are two primary factors: lack of exercise and a poor diet.

For many, the confusing reports on what constitutes a heart-smart diet—one that can help you avoid obesity and other health concerns—make it tough to figure out what you should be eating.

Does Fat in Your Diet Make You Fat?

Low-fat diets were extremely popular several decades ago. Convenience foods and snack foods promoting themselves as low-fat suddenly dominated the supermarket shelves. What largely went unnoticed, however, was that many were high in sugar. We now know that sugar can be even more dangerous than fat in our daily diet.

In recent years, the trend has turned to distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy fats. Nutritionists who advocate for a “paleo diet” encourage people to eat a diet rich in healthy fats, which they say are found in things like full-fat milk products, grass-fed beef, avocados, eggs, and olive oil. Naysayers believe this is a recipe for high cholesterol and heart disease.

What other options are there for eating a diet that keeps your heart in good shape?

Cardiologists often recommend the DASH diet and Mediterranean-style eating plan to their patients.

The DASH Diet

Researchers say the DASH Diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and was created by the National Institutes of Health, seems to hold the most promise. It promotes maintaining a healthy weight, which helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

Here are a few basic principles of the DASH diet:

  • Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Lean protein sources such as poultry, beans, and fish
  • A modest amount of healthy nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and Brazil nuts
  • Using olive oil instead of oils high in saturated fat

Here are a few other DASH diet strategies regarding foods to avoid:

  • Limit foods high in saturated fat, such as processed meat; full-fat dairy; and coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils
  • Eliminate sugary beverages, pastries, and baked goods
  • Restrict daily sodium levels to between 1,500 and 2,300 mg

Because planning is an integral part of success when it comes to eating well, the Mayo Clinic has created three days of sample menus you can use to get started. Each day’s menus also include a nutritional analysis. You can also purchase the DASH Diet Action Plan and a variety of supporting menu planners and cookbooks at your local bookstore.

“While new diet trends or healthy eating styles are constantly popping up, what we’ve always known is that a balanced diet full of smart choices like lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, nuts, legumes, and low-fat dairy choices is the best way to achieve wellness and good nutrition,” says Caitlin Rogers, Sunrise’s vice president of Dining & Nutrition Services.  “An easy trick is to fill half your plate with a variety of colorful, plant-based choices at every meal. “

The dining program at Sunrise communities is designed to promote a healthy, well-balanced diet. Our chef-prepared meals range from braised chicken and sweet potatoes to cranberry chicken salad. We invite you to join us for a complimentary meal to learn more!

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