Heart-Healthy Grocery Shopping (and Recipes, too!)
By Britni Vincent, RD, LD
February 17, 2015
The truth finally comes out: fats are good for you! But you may be asking yourself “if I eat more fat, won’t my cholesterol go up? And isn’t too much cholesterol bad for my heart?” For years we have been told that heart disease is caused by fat consumption, specifically foods containing cholesterol and saturated fat. New research is telling us the opposite—that fats actually improve heart health. The French are a great example of this. They consume a lot of butter, raw cheese and organ meats and have half the rate of heart disease that Americans do.
Contrary to what we have all been told, healthy fats should be consumed each time you eat. And there are several wonderful, real fats that are heart-healthy to choose from. Are you eating them? Plus, do you know how to shop properly for these fats? Let me break it down for you.
Quick guide to choosing and shopping for heart-healthy fats
- Eggs (yolks, too): You don’t have to worry about eating eggs on a regular basis, and please ditch the Egg Beaters®, they only contain the egg whites and have many other additives. Dietary cholesterol from eggs does not have a significant effect on raising your body’s cholesterol level. Egg yolks contain 13 important nutrients, plus they are delicious. Look for “organic” and “free–range” eggs. They are the best option because they contain the most nutrients.
- Meat: Look for “100% grass-fed,” “free-range,” and “organic” to find the healthiest options.
- Fish: Fatty fish, such as sardines, salmon and mackerel, are the best source of omega-3s. A review of omega-3s and cardiovascular disease by Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, concluded that omega-3 consumption “lowers plasma triglycerides, resting heart rate, and blood pressure and might also improve myocardial filling and efficiency, lower inflammation and improve vascular function.” Omega-3s are pretty amazing molecules and have many other benefits other than heart health. When shopping for fish, purchase wild-caught fish. Most canned salmon is wild-caught and can be an economical way to get your delicious salmon and healthy omega-3s. If it doesn’t say "wild-caught" on the label that means it’s farm-raised. Farm-raised fish are pumped with antibiotics and hormones, which are then stored in our bodies after we consume the fish. As a result of their poor living conditions, farm-raised fish lose a lot of their nutrient value. Some farm-raised fish have additives as well. For example, to make the grayish-white colored farmed salmon more appealing, artificial colors are added to give the fish its “salmon” pink color.
- Butter and cream: Choose organic brands and look for “grass-fed.”
- Coconut oil: Look for “cold-pressed” and organic brands. We recommend Garden of Life.
- Olive oil and olives: Contain polyphenols, which are anti-inflammatory and also act as powerful antioxidants. Look for “extra virgin,” “cold-pressed” or “first-pressed,” which means it’s the least processed and contains the most nutrients. When you are purchasing olives, simply choose whatever kind you like best.
- Nuts: Arginine, an amino acid found in nuts, protects the inner lining of the arterial walls (endothelium), making the arterial walls less susceptible to plaque build-up. Nuts are also plentiful in phytonutrients, which have powerful health benefits and have been linked to the prevention of coronary artery disease. Each nut has different nutrients to offer. Choose a variety, but make sure they’re raw or dry roasted so they don’t contain damaged oils.
- Avocado: Excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and contain close to 20 health boosting nutrients. Research also suggests they can lower cholesterol levels.
What about cholesterol?
Dietary cholesterol doesn’t have much impact on our blood cholesterol. Typically, individuals get concerned about their cholesterol after I tell them to include more eggs in their diet. Only 25% of the cholesterol our body has each day comes from diet; the remaining 75% is made in our bodies by our liver. I have seen it countless times that when people start to consume more eggs and other healthy fats, their cholesterol doesn’t change or actually improves.
Dr. Aseem Malhotra, an interventional cardiology specialist at Croydon University Hospital in London, said “the avoidance of saturated fat actually promotes poor health in a number of ways, compounding the health risks of following this completely outdated and dangerous advice.” According to Dr. Bowden and Dr. Sinatra, authors of The Great Cholesterol Myth, saturated fat raises (“good”) HDL cholesterol and tends to change the pattern of your (“bad”) LDL cholesterol to the more favorable pattern A (big, fluffy particles).
Fats to avoid
Yes, fats can negatively affect your heart health, but only the bad fats.
- Trans fats: These damaging fats are found in margarine, non-dairy creamers, cake mixes, soup cups, most packaged baked goods, chips, and fast food. You can identify trans fats in the ingredient list by looking for “partially hydrogenated oil” or “hydrogenated oil.” It is absolutely necessary that you be your own detective and not trust when the front of the package says “no trans fats.” Legally, food manufacturers can put “0 grams trans fat” on the label if it contains 0.5 grams or less per serving. Many of the serving sizes on packages are so small it’s likely you’re getting multiple servings. Trans fats will increase your (“bad”) LDL cholesterol and decrease your (“good”) HDL cholesterol. The Nurses’ Health Study revealed that for each 2 percent increase in trans fat calories consumed, the risk for coronary heart disease doubles. In November 2013, the FDA announced a ban of trans fats. Trans fats will be phased out of foods, but for now you still need to be on the look-out—no trans fats are safe.
- Refined oils (corn, canola, soybean and cottonseed oil): Historically, vegetable oils, such as canola oil, have been promoted as being “heart healthy.” However, recent research disagrees. These kinds of fats are inflammatory by nature, but the processing makes them even worse. Think about what happens when you squeeze a kernel of corn or a soybean, oil doesn’t actually come out. The oils are extracted and refined using very high heat and petroleum solvents, like hexane. Then it goes through another process of refining, degumming, bleaching, and even deodorization (because they stink). Researchers from “Dietary Fats, Carbohydrate, and the Progression of Coronary Atherosclerosis in Post-menopausal Women” found that when they replaced saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils described above) it led to an increase in the progression of coronary atherosclerosis, or plaque build-up. These kinds of fats are found in many packaged foods, even roasted nuts, so always read the ingredient list!
Incorporating salmon into your diet is a great way to increase your heart-healthy fat intake. Here are two delicious and EASY recipes for you to try:
Learn how to shop for heart-healthy foods with a grocery store tour!
Learning the information is the first step, but putting the information into action at the grocery store can be confusing, overwhelming and time consuming. Join me for a group grocery store tour, and I will show you how to navigate the never-ending aisles of food products and make sense of those confusing food labels.
After your tour, you will:
- Save time and money by using our proven shopping techniques.
- Avoid trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup, MSG and other food additives that can sabotage your health.
- Manage gluten-free shopping.
- Easily compare brands to select the best product for you and your family.
We have many upcoming grocery store tours around the metro that I’m leading. See upcoming classes and sign up.