Heart Health: Frequently Asked Questions

Doctors get a lot of questions — millions of them. But while the words used to ask the questions are almost always different, the underlying concerns don’t change very much from person to person or year to year. With this in mind, we decided to provide answers to the 11 most common questions people ask regarding heart health. We hope you find a little extra help and wisdom among them.

Q: I hate all those good-for-you foods. What should I do?

A: What makes unhealthy food so tasty — and unhealthy — is excessive salt, sugar, or fat. For example, when you eat a potato chip or french fry, it’s not the potato that delights your taste buds, it’s the oil and salt. The good news: Over time, you can train yourself to be less needy for these flavors. When you do, you’ll discover that “good for you” foods often taste far more wonderful than simple but salty or sugary junk foods.

Start by making the easiest, smallest changes. Do you have a cola and a doughnut to start the day? Make one change, such as postponing the cola until lunch and replacing it with chocolate milk, or having the cola but switching from a doughnut to a fruity muffin. Similarly, make one healthy swap at lunch — switch from mayonnaise to mustard on your sandwich or add an apple to the meal, for example. Then do the same at dinner. Your goal is to make small, acceptable adjustments to your diet and stick with them. After they become second nature, add a few more. Along the way, pull back a little from the saltshaker, the butter, and the sugary drinks. In time, you’ll be less reliant on salty, sugary, fatty flavors and more satisfied with fresher, healthier foods.

Q: I cook for the whole family, and they refuse to change what they’re eating. How can I stay on track?

A: Parents often put their family’s interests before their own, but when it comes to health, that’s a big mistake. You have an obligation to look after yourself, to tend to your health and happiness, so don’t let family pressures defeat you. Try cooking your healthy favorites in big batches, then freeze one-portion servings. Microwave your meal while you cook for the gang. Or simply put a salad with a choice of dressings, an extra veggie, and cut-up fruit on the table with the meal. You’ll get to fill up on the healthy stuff plus a moderate portion of the main dish, and your family is likely to eat healthier without even realizing it. Another strategy: Swap ingredients. Replace some or all of the butter in recipes with canola or olive oil; use low-fat, low-sodium cheese (and less of it); sneak more veggies into casseroles, soups, and sauces; and cook lower-fat cuts of meat.

Q: What if I’ve eaten the wrong foods, and bad foods, all my life? Is the damage done?

A: One of the greatest rewards of healthy eating is an immediate upgrade in your body’s health. Research shows that eating just one healthy meal cuts inflammation, lowers the amount of dangerous fats in your bloodstream, reduces free radical damage, and improves the way your arteries function. The bottom line: It’s never, ever, ever too late to reap the benefits of a heart-smart eating plan.

Q: I hate seafood. I love beef. That’s not going to change — ever. Am I doomed?

A: Not at all. A healthy, 3- to 4-ounce portion of lean beef is good for you because it’s packed with vitamins B6 and B12, both of which help control levels of homocysteine, a substance linked to heart risk. And beef today has significantly less artery-clogging saturated fat than in the past. Just be sure to look for low-fat cuts, such as bottom round, eye round, top round, round tip, top sirloin, top loin, or tenderloin.

True, you’re missing out on the amazing heart benefits provided by the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, so be sure to take fish-oil supplements, choose walnuts when you’re snacking on nuts, try a sprinkle of ground flaxseed (another source of omega-3s) on your cereal, and consider shopping around in health food stores for grass-fed beef, which actually contains a smidgen of omega-3s. Another source might be a local farm where beef cattle are grass fed. To find one near you, check out the state-by-state locater service at www.eatwild.com. It lists providers by province in Canada, too.

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