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Eat Heart Healthy

Imagine sitting down to a delicious dinner of well-seasoned grilled fish, a lush green salad with a tangy olive oil vinaigrette and a glass of red wine. Because no gourmet feast is complete without dessert, you enjoy dark chocolate and sweet blueberries. Now that, according to the American Heart Association, is a heart-healthy meal.

“Many people assume that if what you are eating is good for your heart, then it must not be flavorful — nothing could be farther from the truth,” says Ali Moustapha, M.D., F.A.C.C., interventional cardiologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford. “I encourage my patients to avoid saturated fats and trans fats, and instead eat foods rich in monounsaturated fats. These include delicious offerings such as olive oil and nuts.”

Anyone who’s ever sat down to a fine French meal of high-fat foods and red wine may wonder how the French have such a low incidence of heart disease. This “French Paradox” may be linked to two things — a talent for portion control and moderate consumption of resveratrol-rich red wine.

“A small amount of red wine may help to increase the level of HDL cholesterol — or the good type of cholesterol — and inhibit LDL cholesterol from forming,” says Laurie McGuyer, R.D., clinical dietitian for Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Stephenville. “Resveratrol, an antioxidant, is found in the skin of grapes, so it occurs naturally in red wine. Some studies suggest that resveratrol may also appear in dark chocolate.”

Of course, red wine and dark chocolate aren’t the only antioxidant-rich foods you can add to your diet. If you don’t like the taste of alcohol or find dark chocolate too bitter, never fear. There are other heart-healthy foods you might enjoy.

According to McGuyer, these options include:

• Apples

• Beans

• Black or green tea

• Dark berries, such as raspberries and blueberries

• Grape juice (dark)

• Nuts

• Purple grapes

“By incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet, you can never go wrong,” McGuyer says. “Fish, such as salmon, that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and whole-grain products that are high in fiber are also good choices.”

Although eating foods with buttery or cheesy sauces — or indulging in a big slice of cake on your birthday or pumpkin pie around the holidays — are not the best choices you can make for your heart, Dr. Moustapha stresses that it is not harmful to occasionally indulge, as long as you do so in moderation.

“If you want a steak or a slice of bacon occasionally, that is fine,” Moustapha says. “I don’t tell my patients they have to give up all the foods they enjoy, even if those foods are cake and ice cream. Instead, I ask them to enjoy foods that are less healthy in moderation and look for alternative ways to prepare them.”

For information about heart and vascular services at a Texas Health hospital, please visit
TexasHealth.org/heart or call 1-877-THR-WELL (1-877-847-9355). (Spring 2009)

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