Heart health starts with colorful food

  • Fri Mar 16th, 2012 3:30pm
  • Life

By Katie Murdoch, For The Herald

The steps toward a healthier heart begin with colors — the colors of the foods on your plate, that is.

People should aim to fill their plate throughout the week with foods representing each color of the rainbow to ensure they’re consuming enough vitamins and minerals.

Tomatoes and eggplant are obvious choices, but don’t overlook purple potatoes or blackberries and white foods packed with nutrients, including cauliflower and the insides of apples and bananas.

These foods are filled with phytochemicals and the benefits not only improve heart health, but can ward off other diseases including cancer, said Megan Ellison, a registered dietitian with Swedish Edmonds.

“It’s something we have a lot of control over and can make a big difference,” Ellison said.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans, according to the American Heart Association, which recommends a series of small lifestyle changes — including a healthy diet — that can make big differences.

“Heart disease in most cases is preventable,” Ellison said.

A healthy diet is not limited to filling one’s plate with as many colors as possible. A diet packed with foods low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars, and foods high in whole grains, fiber and lean protein also help improve heart health.

Even guilty pleasures can help so long as they’re consumed in moderation, Ellison said.

Dark chocolate made with at least 70 percent cocoa can help. The American Heart Association recommends 1 ounce per day.

Alcohol is packed with antioxidants that can lower blood pressure. Women are advised to consume one shot, one 5-ounce glass of wine or one beer per day. Men can have one to two drinks per day. Beyond the recommended amount, alcohol becomes counterproductive and raises blood pressure.

“It’s the Goldilocks amount for the health benefits,” Ellison said.

For those who don’t drink, Ellison does not advise beginning just for the health benefits.

“There are other ways to get healthy,” she said.

There’s no secret to adopting a healthier diet, said Brendan Selders, a physician’s assistant with the Everett Clinic’s Heart and Vascular Center.

“I tell patients we all know what we’re supposed to do,” Selders said.

Selders empathizes with the challenge of eating healthy in a fast-paced society and the reality that healthy options cost more than unhealthy options.

Selders has found planning meals for the week has helped him and his wife eat healthier. They also stick to the edges of grocery stores as these shelves are stocked with healthier options.

“The bottom line is if you want your body to continue working,” he said, “you have to make changes.”

Life’s simple 7

The American Heart Association has identified seven steps to improve health and quality of life:

1. Don’t smoke.

2. Maintain a healthy weight.

3. Engage in regular physical activity.

4. Eat a healthy diet.

5. Manage blood pressure.

6. Take charge of cholesterol.

7. Keep blood sugar, or glucose, at healthy levels.

Source: American Heart Association