Better Food Choices for Better Heart Health: Simple Substitutions Improve the Diet, from the October 2013 Harvard Heart Letter

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When a family member develops a type of heart disease with a known genetic cause, all close family members should consider genetic testing.

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It's easier to follow a heart-healthy diet than you think. All it takes are some simple changes in food choices, reports the October 2013 Harvard Heart Letter.

Wholesale changes aren't necessarily needed. Instead, small changes can make a big difference, says registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the department of nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"The typical American diet contains a large proportion of unhealthy fats, too few fruits and vegetables, too much sugar and sodium, and too little fiber," she says. "This contributes to risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity."

The Harvard Heart Letter asked Ms. McManus and Dr. Michelle Hauser, a certified chef, nutrition educator, and internal medicine fellow at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance, how they would tweak the typical American diet to be healthier for the heart. Their suggestions lower the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, sodium, and calories, and boost the amount of fiber and nutrients.

If you eat: Eggs
Try: Scramble in leftover vegetables from last night's dinner or chopped fresh tomatoes and avocado
Why: Adds nutrients and fiber; tomatoes add antioxidants, which help prevent fatty plaques; avocados add monounsaturated fat, which helps the body absorb nutrients

If you eat: Salad with ranch or blue cheese dressing
Try: A vinaigrette dressing made with garlic, Dijon mustard, fresh herbs, 1/3 cup vinegar, 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, pepper, and a dash of salt shaken together in a jar
Why: Reduces sodium and unhealthy fats

If you eat: Pasta with meat and cheese
Try: Whole-wheat spaghetti topped with fresh tomatoes and herbs or extra-virgin olive oil, grilled shrimp, and a small amount of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Why: Reduces saturated fat; adds fiber and health-protecting phytonutrients; shrimp adds omega-3 fatty acids, which may lower the risk of heart attack, stroke, and arrhythmias

For more tips, read the full-length article: "Make these better food choices for better heart health."

Also in the October 2013 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter:

  •     Kidney health closely linked to heart health
  •     Genetic testing: when heart disease is a family affair
  •     Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: early diagnosis can prevent sudden death

The Harvard Heart Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $16 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).

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Natalie Ramm
Harvard Health Publications
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