More than 735,000 men and women will have a heart attack in 2017, so when research suggests ways to protect all the arteries in the body, we should listen.

Reduce the saturated fats for healthy arteries

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks diseases in this country including heart disease. Here are some staggering statistics from the CDC on this deadly disease: approximately 610,000 people die from heart disease each year, or 1 in 4 people. It continues to be the leading cause of death for adults. More than 735,000 men and women will have a heart attack in 2017, so when research suggests ways to protect all the arteries in the body, we should listen.

Harvard University researchers recently looked at data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up study and concluded that a higher intake of saturated fats is associated with an increased risk for coronary artery disease. This risk was the highest with the long-chain saturated fats which include beef, dairy fats (whole milk, hard cheese, butter) and chocolate.

The heart health benefits were strongest when these saturated fats were replaced with certain foods, and not sugar and refined carbs. The healthy food replacements included:

  • Fish, including shellfish
  • Plant proteins – legumes, nuts, soy products like tofu and tempeh
  • Whole-grains such as oats, barley, brown rice, whole wheat breads and cereal
  • Polyunsaturated oils such fatty fish, sunflower and corn oils, nuts such as walnuts

There are many factors involved in the risk for coronary artery disease – lack of exercise, excess weight, stress, uncontrolled high blood pressure and cholesterol, and smoking, to name the most important.  But the research is pretty solid also about dietary influences on artery disease. Saturated fats, as well as processed carbohydrates and sugars that spike glucose levels, are not artery-friendly.

Take baby steps to move away from some of the saturated fats and replace with healthy oils and nuts, whole-grains, fruits and vegetables, of course. For protein include fish, skinless poultry, dried beans and peas, soy products and nuts.

In step-wise fashion you might make changes to family-favorite recipes: adjust beef-vegetable stew to use half the amount of lean beef but more double the vegetables such as onions, carrots and turnips, white and sweet potatoes. Then add just a few chunks of lean beef to flavor the broth but have mostly a vegetable-based stew. The final adjustment is to make just a seasonal vegetable stew and skip the beef completely.

Recipes to try:


About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.