Eating for a healthy heart

Jul 9, 2024
healthy foods

People of a certain age may vividly recall when the predominant diet advice was that all fat was bad, eggs were out, and any kind of carb could spell calamity. Meanwhile, plenty of red meat and butter were healthy, as long as you imbibed sufficient amounts of red wine.

Dietary trends come and go, and the best way to make sense of eating to keep your heart healthy is, in Dr. Michael Miedema’s words, to “stick to the science.”

Dr. Miedema, Director of the Nolan Family Center for Cardiovascular Health, says, “Nutrition is truly the foundation of cardiovascular health. Unfortunately,” he adds, “it’s also one of the most confusing.”

The confusion can be compounded by what Dr. Miedema calls the “marketing, anecdotes and food fads” that surround us on television, in print, and our social media feeds.

Talking to a doctor or a registered dietitian can help clear some of the noise. Most people receive a nutrition consultation following a heart event such as a heart attack or stent placement, but people with healthy hearts can definitely benefit from what science tells us about food, nutrition, and its impact on keeping our bodies nourished and healthy. And the best news is that nobody has to feel deprived, ever.

There is a critical shift in the nutrition narrative from one of exclusion to inclusion. The goal is to select foods to meet our nutritional requirements while maintaining a healthy weight and retaining the pleasure of eating.

Susan K White, RDN of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation

The internet and cookbooks abound with recipes – like this one for Vegan Oatmeal Banana Muffins, from Minneapolis Heart Institute staff– that illustrate the five key themes of healthful eating, as Dr. Miedema explains in a video called “Heart Healthy Eating” one of many in the Nolan Family Center for Cardiovascular Health library of current heart topics.

The 5 key themes of healthful eating

Eat mostly plants. A plant-forward diet can be varied, interesting and nutritious. Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes and beans. Minimize animal products such as meat and high fat dairy.

Don’t fear fat. Gone are the days when all fat was bad fat. Science tells us some kinds of fat actually protect against heart disease. Olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocados and more – generally, those known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – taste good and help promote health. These are the predominant types of fat in the highly buzzed about (and researched) ‘Mediterranean Diet.’ Aim for two fish meals weekly, particularly fatty fish, for their excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Eat fewer highly processed foods. This is one area where recent buzz is on the mark. Processed foods – cold cuts, commercial baked goods, frozen pizzas and other packaged entrees, and so on – are loaded with sodium, added sugars, and multisyllabic ingredients that aren’t good for us.

Limit added sugars. The number one source of added sugars in the American diet is soda. Cutting out soft drinks, at about 10 teaspoons of sugar in a 12 oz can, can make a difference in one’s health. The office candy dish is another hazard to avoid.

Prioritize food over supplements. Food is usually a better source of nutrients than supplements, which are often not worth the cost. A varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables of many colors provides many of the vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients our bodies need.

Americans love to talk about food. Each year a new conversation starts about must-have foods to help lose weight, prevent disease or improve health and longevity. Remember, nutrition is a science and not an opinion. It can be very confusing—and headlines too often inflame fear of certain foods and glorify others.

A better approach is to eat well over a lifetime with a variety of foods from all food groups. With a little reframing, we can love what we eat – and our food will reward us with healthy bodies, healthy hearts, and potentially longer lives.  

Find more heart-healthy resources on our heart disease prevention webpage.

hope, health & humor

Heart care is different for women vs men. Join us at our upcoming event, Hope, Health & Humor on August 12th, for a night of inspiration and education, featuring an artisan market, beverages, food, community, and a panel of experts in women's heart health. No matter where you are on your heart health journey, you'll learn about actions you can take now to give the best care for your heart. Learn more and register.

Give the Gift of Hope
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The Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation® (MHIF) strives to create a world without heart and vascular disease. To achieve this bold vision, we are dedicated to improving the cardiovascular health of individuals and communities through innovative research and education.

Thanks to the generosity of donors like you, we can continue this life-saving work. Please make a gift to support the area of greatest need.

Brad Paisley at Heart 360: Concert for Heart Research

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Brad Paisley at Heart 360 Concert

Ready to celebrate with a community that has heart? We are excited to announce Heart 360 Concert for Heart Research on Saturday, November 2 at The Armory with headliner and award-winning country music singer Brad Paisley! Purchase GA tickets via Ticketmaster, or Premium VIP tickets today: