With Valentine’s Day and Heart Health Month falling in February, it seems like an ideal time to share healthy heart tidbits of information.  Let’s first start with a brief overview of cholesterol.  Cholesterol is a fat found in our blood that is used for:  making hormones and vitamin D, aiding in the digestion of fat as it is used by your liver to create bile, and providing a protective barrier as it is needed for the formation of cell membranes for every cell in your body.

The amount of cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream is regulated by your liver.  Approximately 25% of your cholesterol comes from diet and the remainder is produced by your liver.  Your body adjusts the amount it produces.  If you eat more, your body will produce less and if you eat less, your body will make more cholesterol.

We often refer to LDL as the “bad cholesterol” and HDL as the “good cholesterol” and use them to determine the level of risk for cardiovascular disease.  But these numbers are only one piece of the story and used independent of additional lab tests are not an adequate indicator of cardiovascular disease risk.  Additional lab considerations include:  triglycerides, C- reactive protein, cholesterol particle size and density.

Diet, lifestyle, genetic make-up, and a variety factors contribute not only to your heart health, but also your overall health.  The best diet is one that is customized specifically for you and the ‘ideal diet’ will vary for each individual.  However,  I have provided general heart healthy nutritional recommendations below that will benefit most people.

Know Your Fats

  • Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids in the appropriate ratio are not anti-infammatory but essential for eye, heart and brain health.  An ideal ration of omega 3 to omega 6 is 1:2.  Anything higher than 1:4 increases inflammation and your risk for disease.  Unfortunately, the standard American diet is closer to 1:15.  Omega 3 food sources include:  wild caught cold water fish (e.g., salmon, sardines), walnuts, flax and chia seeds.  Avoid excess omega 6 plant-based oils (e.g.,  canola, corn, soybean, cottonseed, grape seed, and sunflower).  Omega 3 deficiency symptoms include:  depression, cardiovascular disease, fatigue, type 2 diabetes, dry or itchy skin, brittle nails and hair.
  • Avoid trans fats (i.e., fried foods, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils).  What if the label says “No Trans Fats?”  Manufacturers are only required to list trans fats if they are greater than .5 grams per serving.  Being a savvy label reader is key!  Trans fats have been linked with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity and immune dysfunction.

Whole Foods Nutrient Dense Diet

  • Eat food as close as possible to its original state- avoiding packaged, processed foods.
  • Consume a colorful variety of vegetables.  Each color brings different nutrients and antioxidants.
  • Include adequate fiber.  Soluble and insoluble fiber have several health benefits:  feeling full, balancing your blood sugar, and promoting regular bowel elimination which prevents inflammation in the intestines and facilitates detoxification.  Soluble fiber binds with water to form a gel-like consistency which also helps lower cholesterol by hindering dietary cholesterol absorption.  Soluble fiber food sources include:  beans, peas, lentils, Brussel’s sprouts, oats, nuts and seeds.  Insoluble food sources (think roughage) include:  cabbage, lettuce, onions, and bell peppers.
  • Include healthy fats:  omega 3s, avocados, coconut, olives, nuts, seeds, and eggs.

Heart Health Supplements to Consider

  • Fish Oil (EPA/DHA) is recommended if you don’t eat wild caught cold water fatty fish a couple times a week.  In addition to helping promote a healthy omega 3 to omega 6 ratio, benefits include:  a decrease in triglycerides, reduction in arterial wall inflammation, decreased clotting, improved endothelial function and blood viscosity.
  • Antioxidant vitamins C and E work together synergistically to neutralize free radicals.
  • Coenzyme 10 (CoQ10) supports energy (ATP) production and your heart muscle uses a lot of energy.  As you age you make less CoQ10 and have difficulty converting CoQ10 to the ubiquinol form- the form we use.  If taking a statin, supplementing with CoQ10 in the ubiquinol from is critical.
  • Magnesium is used for 300+ enzymatic functions in your body (e.g., cellular energy generation, muscle relaxation, fat, protein synthesis, and maintenance of strong bones).  Magnesium improves metabolic efficiency of heart muscles, endothelial function, as well as stabilizing arterial plaque.

If you are interested in learning more about a heart healthy diet, supplementation, nutritional deficiencies, or cardiovascular risk factors, contact me.  Together we will assess your heart health, determine if more testing is needed,  and design a nutritional plan that meets your needs!

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