Loving Heart Health

February 5, 2019 in Health, Mediterranean, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

February is dedicated to the emotional heart and, certainly The American Heart Association has not missed the chance to connect the emotional heart and the physical heart. That said, I think I’ll follow their lead and use the Valentine Day Month as a good time to share some information about the physical heart – heart health.

Learning that heart health was definitely related to our lifestyle and especially to what kind of fat we ate began clear back in 1947 when Ancel Keys observed seemingly healthy men dying of heart attacks in America. He took a sabbatical from Oxford and headed for Italy; because a colleague claimed that the Italians rarely had heart attacks. That was the beginning of the Seven Countries Study - SCS (USA, Finland, Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Former Yugoslavia, Japan). Out of this early work a recognition of an eating pattern central to the promotion of a healthy heart was accepted and became known as The Mediterranean Diet (just this year found to be the best diet of 2019.) The SCS were in essence all observational studies; the data did not PROVE anything – but, it was a great place to start figuring out what to prove. In the past seventy years, hundreds of studies have been conducted that help us recognize that eating too much saturated fat is a big problem for our heart (now we’re also learning that saturated fat consumption affects other diseases too). Interestingly, clear back in 1965 when the original studies were being analyzed it was beyond a reasonable doubt that replacing saturated fats with mono and polyunsaturated fats, resulted in a substantial lowering of cholesterol and ultimately improved heart health.

Nutrition Action Newsletter posted a quote from Frank Sacks, professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “If you look at the four highest-quality trials together, they provide direct evidence that replacing a diet high in saturated fat with a diet high in polyunsaturated fat prevents heart attacks and strokes.”

The American Heart Association’s Facts on Fat is a concise and useful resource to help you identify saturated fats; and beyond that, what are the wholesome and beneficial fats.

Nuts, seeds, olives, fatty fish, avocado and poly and mono unsaturated fats – yea Love it!

Cheese, butter, heavy cream – Limit it!

Artificial trans fats, hydrogenated oils, and tropical oils (coconut oil) Lose it!

It’s interesting to me that beef, a food that provides so much saturated fat to the American population is not listed in the “Love it; Limit it; and Lose it” list from the American Heart Association. My first guess is this may be because there are cuts of beef that are low in saturated fat e.g. eye of the round. Since the list is only addressing saturated fats, that may be the reason to leave beef off the list. But, unfortunately, there is a stack of evidence that beef consumption is related to heart disease and even some other health risks. But it may not be the saturated fat alone, so the cause of increased risk is sitting in the “wait and see” basket.

As almost always, I focus on food/nutrition, but the fact is that we need to move our bodies in addition to eating healthily (lots of veggies, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fish – and limiting saturated fat, sugar, and red meat).  For optimal health, we must also be physically active; get sufficient sleep, manage our weight and maintain positive social connections.

Being kind to our hearts and the hearts of those whom we love has a potential for a truly big payoff. We only need to observe our friends and family and the heart-breaking disabilities that come with heart disease to realize that protecting our hearts on the front end, through diet, exercise, and social connections is worth our effort.