Back in the day heart disease was always thought of more as a “man’s disease.” However, we now know coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, arrhythmia and congestive heart failure do not discriminate among gender — 1 in 4 women dies from heart disease in the United States. Starting at about 20 years old, approximately 1 in 16 women will begin to develop coronary heart disease, the number one cause of death for women in the U.S. The risk of heart disease for women increases as we age.
Heart disease is preventable. Like many other illnesses, cardiovascular disease often starts in the gut. As we mentioned in part 1 & 2 of our “Aging Gracefully…Other BS” series, exercise and nutrition help combat heart disease.
We know what you are thinking — heart disease is all about the build of plaque on the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart, right?! Yes, that is correct. You have also likely heard the heart healthy guidelines: Eat healthy, stay active, don’t smoke, and limit alcohol use to lower your chance for heart disease. This article is going to focus on the heart healthy guidelines: Eat healthy because what we eat can make a difference in the health of our hearts❤️.
Fiber. Number one element to preventing heart disease from beginning to develop in your gut. We discussed fiber’s importance here: https://amysmargulies.medium.com/womans-series-part-2-your-food-your-gut-your-immunity-a07a6ab3e1bd — so take a look if you missed it!
Healthy fats. Fat was a word formally banished from our plates until the science revealed how healthy fats provide one of the most important roles in our bodies. Healthy fats help you absorb certain vitamins and minerals, and they provide certain vitamins and minerals. Fat is needed to build cell membranes, and the sheaths surrounding nerves. Furthermore, healthy fats are essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation. These healthy fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. AVOID industrial-made trans fats!
Fats are both naturally and industrially created. The chemical structure of fats is what makes them both similar and different. A simple explanation — without feeling like you are back in 8th grade science — is that all fats contain a chain of carbon atoms bonded to hydrogen atoms. Seemingly slight differences in fat structure translate into crucial differences in form and function:
- Trans Fat — Thankfully, no longer permissible in the US and other countries. They were created by the food industry to extend the shelf life of foods, but not people…
- Saturated Fat — when your carbon atoms are covered or “saturated” with hydrogen atoms. These saturated atoms cause both your LDL cholesterol (the plaque-building cholesterol) and total cholesterol to increase. These fats are solid at room temperature and include red meat, whole milk and other full-fat dairy foods, cheese, coconut oil, and many commercially prepared baked goods. As Waze would way — please make a u-turn — not the direction we want to go.
Now we are on the right road! Less is best when it comes to bonding and fats (but not bonding and friends, of course). With less hydrogenated atoms bonding to their carbon chains, you have liquid at room temperature. Some of the food sources include vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish.
- Polyunsaturated Fat — These are the essential dudes — required for normal body functions — built with double bonds or more in their carbon chain. They are important for nerve function, blood clotting, brain health and muscle strength. They may reduce your total cholesterol and triglycerides. Your body can’t make these essential dudes, so you must get them from food. There are two main types: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids, which differ in structure, and therefore differ in benefits. Like friends with benefits, they come fully loaded..lol.. Most importantly for our topic today, both help in the prevention of heart disease. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil and non-hydrogenated soybean oil. Sources of omega-6 fatty acids include vegetable oils such as safflower, soybean, sunflower, walnut and corn oils.
- Monounsaturated Fat — These are the happy to be solo fats — single bonding structures, living the Mediterranean lifestyle🏝. Good sources include olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, most nuts and nut butters, as well as high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils. Monounsaturated fats may lower your total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels but maintain your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level. So they are rather important to include as part of your heart-healthy food repertoire.
Let’s dip a bit more into monounsaturated fats or MUFAs (a much more fun name when you say it out-loud). Yes, they include the olive oil you may dip into when dining out (when…). These heart-healthy food sources are tasty, as well as calorically dense. All fats, including MUFAs, are high in calories, so even when making this healthy fat choice, continue to use MUFAs in moderation. Therefore when dipping your bread in that olive oil, enjoy it, but try not to overdo it. Choose MUFA-rich foods instead of other fatty foods, not in addition to them. For example:
- Using crushed or sliced nuts 🥜 your salad instead of croutons (the crushed or sliced is just to make a small serving go a longer way).
- Adding avocado🥑to your salad or sandwich instead of bacon.
- Adding olives to your pizza🍕instead of pepperoni or fried chicken.
- Using canola oil instead of shortening when baking🍞(and even then, reduce amount).
- Snack on a serving of nuts 🌰instead of a serving of chips or crackers.
Always keep in mind, we are not asking for perfection. No one is perfect. You are not perfect (no offense). But by removing that vocabulary from your repertoire, it all becomes a whole. lot. easier. Just keep moving forwards. And when you fall back, pick yourself up, and keep on movin’. When it comes to fat sources, starting to make these small changes will eventually make a big difference to your heart❤️!
Let’s cook up some MUFA!
This is based on the more famous Chicken Kiev, but lightened up and heart-healthy! The original recipe leaves the chicken with the skin, stuffs it with butter, dips it in egg and bread crumbs and deep fries it. This version has much less fat, uses a monounsaturated oil, fresh whole wheat bread crumbs, lots of herbs, spice and flavor, creating something moist, delicious and healthy for your heart. With that said, this is a longer recipe in terms of time, so perhaps a weekend dish or an evening when you feel you can commit and embrace your time in the kitchen…just sayin ;).
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 1/2 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, washed and dried, chopped into small pieces
3–4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, divided (or basil, thyme or other favorite herb)
2 cups fresh whole wheat bread crumbs (create by removing crusts and process 4 slices whole wheat bread in food processor until just crumbly)
1/4 cup nonfat milk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. For the filling: Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for about 2 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and garlic. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. Then remove the lid and continue to cook until the liquid has fully evaporated from the skillet. Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of your herb of choice. Place on dinner-size plate, divide into 4 equal portions and set aside to cool for about 20 minutes.
For the coating: Combine the bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons your herb of choice and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a medium bowl.
For the cookin’: Spray baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange the prepared chicken on sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 20–25 minutes. Chicken should be cooked through but still moist. Serve immediately, sliced for a fancy look or whole, topped with herbs. Makes 4 servings.
A goofy name, but makes a point. Any type of flatbread can be made into a balanced, heart-healthy meal. Choose whole grain and top with your MUFA favorites, and we are all set. It is a great way to use leftovers, or grab some of those frozen veggies that have been in there for perhaps a little while…you know which ones I mean :).
1 whole grain flatbread — ie. whole wheat Naan, whole wheat pita bread, whole wheat tortilla
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups cooked veggies: broccoli, mushrooms,, zucchini, spinach
1/2 cup chopped arugula and/or tomatoes
1/2 cup low fat cheese — any mix of mozzarella, cheddar, feta, goat, etc.
1/2 cup protein from your fridge or pantry: chopped cooked chicken, white beans, cooked lean steak, cooked shrimp, etc.
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
optional garnish: fresh basil leaves
Preheat broiler on low. Place flatbread on a baking sheet, lined with nonstick foil. Brush flatbread with olive oil. Mix veggies with garlic and spread veggies, protein and cheese evenly on top of your flatbread, with cheese on top.
Place in oven and broil for 2–3 minutes, or until cheese begins to brown.
Makes one serving, but feel free to double, triple, quadruple, as needed.
ROASTED TILAPIA WITH ALMONDS AND OLIVES
Roasting helps to bring out the natural juiciness of the food itself, creating a moist, flavorful and satisfying dish. This fish dish is topped with some of our MUFAs of course, creating a delicious mix of a tender fish and moist crunch, to make you taste buds and heart smile big. Not a fan of fish, you could easily substitute a veggie here too, like asparagus or string beans.
4 6-ounce tilapia fillets
1/3 cup lime juice
1/2 Tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 Tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
1/2 Tablespoon minced shallots
3 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 ounces white wine
1/2 cup black olives, pitted and chopped
2 Tablespoons almonds, crushed
Fresh chopped tarragon for optional garnish
Combine lime juice, pepper, tarragon and shallots in a large sealable bag. Add the tilapia fillets (or vegetable) and turn to coat all sides with the marinade. Let marinate at room temperature for about 20 minutes. While fish is marinating, place nonstick foil in rimmed baking sheet. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Remove the fish from the marinade and place on baking sheet. Place in oven to roast for about 10–12 minutes or until fish is fork tender.
While fish is roasting, prepare sauce by placing a small skillet over medium heat. Add the tomato paste and white wine. Bring to a simmer for 5–6 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the olives and almonds.
Once roasting is complete, remove fish from oven and place on serving dish. Top with sauce and additional tarragon for garnish. Makes 4 servings.
Survival is the new success. ~ Jerry Seinfeld
Abdelhamid AS, Martin N, Bridges C, et al. Polyunsaturated fatty acids for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;7(7):CD012345. Published 2018 Jul 18. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012345.pub2
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