Scientific research has evaluated countless diets, and the diet that consistently proves to be the most beneficial is one based in plants. Plants are rich in nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Choosing fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains not only provides you with the nutrients you need, but also helps you avoid things you don’t, like saturated and trans fats or added sugars. Each time you sit down for a meal, your plate should include mostly plant-based foods. Legumes and whole grains can also be a great source of plant-based protein that has healthy kinds and levels of fat. The fiber in plants, both soluble and insoluble, has been shown to help reduce “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels, and to reduce risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Eat the rainbow
Eating a wide variety of foods is not only a great way to keep your daily meals interesting, it also helps to eat all of the nutrients you need. Some fruits or vegetables are higher in certain vitamins or minerals than others, and by eating many from a wide variety you can be sure you’re getting your daily dose of all of them. For example, green leafy vegetables like mustard greens or kale can be a good source of vitamin K, but they lack vitamin B5, so eating kale with mushrooms (which are a better source of B5) helps to make your meal more complete. Including a wide variety of foods means picking them from all colors and textures. The more colorful your plate, the more variety you are getting; and your heart appreciates that variety!
Choose fats wisely
Fat is a necessary nutrient for the healthy functioning of your heart. Fat helps to carry some vitamins (A,D,E, and K) to the rest of your body in your blood. Not all fats are created equal. There are some fats that are considered heart heathy and others that should be avoided or used sparingly. Non-tropical, plant-based fats are good choices for daily cooking. These include things like olive oil, nuts and seeds, and fruits like avocado. These provide healthful fat, that when consumed in the appropriate portion, help to reduce risk of developing heart disease. Increasing your omega-3 fat intake is also beneficial for your heart. Some recent studies have found that regular consumption of these omega-3 fats is correlated to reduced risk for cardiac arrhythmia and acute cardiac events. These fats must be acquired in the diet and are found in oily fish like salmon, white chunk tuna, sardines, in flaxseed, walnuts, and chia seeds. Including these in your diet can help to improve your risk, and may even help to reduce your cholesterol and blood pressure. There are two fats that are detrimental for heart health; trans and saturated fats. Trans fat is most commonly a man-made fat and is usually labeled as hydrogenated oil in food packages. Trans fats are largely found in processed foods, especially in commercially prepared baked goods. Trans fats have been shown to increase your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, decrease your “good” (HDL) cholesterol, and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. These types of fats should be avoided completely. Saturated fat is another fat that increases the amount of fat carried in your blood cholesterol. High saturated fat intake is associated with high animal product and high processed food consumption. Saturated fat is found in animal proteins like red meat, in whole fat dairy products like whole milk or sour cream, and also in tropical oils like coconut or palm kernel oil. These fats should be minimized, so when choosing your fats, try to stick to fatty fish, or non-tropical plant oils.
Slow down on the sodium and the sugar
Increased consumption of sodium and of sugar is not uncommon and is associated with high processed food intake. Processed foods are also very low in vitamins, crucial minerals like calcium, and fiber. Added sodium and sugar can have very detrimental effects on your health, and should be minimized. Research has shown that the amount of sodium consumed can have an effect on blood pressure, one of the components of cardiovascular disease. High sodium diets are associated with elevated blood pressure. Foods that are high in sodium are often packaged, pre-prepared, or processed. To avoid excess sodium, try eating out less, making foods from scratch, reducing reliance on processed foods, and picking reduced sodium options. Sugar may taste sweet, but its effect on heart health is anything but. High sugar diets are correlated to increased risk for cardiovascular disease. A diet high in added sugars, like high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, table sugar, or sweeteners, raises the triglyceride levels in your blood. Having this increase also increases your risk of developing other disorders of ill health that accumulate to create the metabolic syndrome. Avoiding added sugars is best. This can be done by reducing your dessert intake, cooking more at home, choosing low sugar options in the grocery store, and by reducing or eliminating consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, sweet tea, or fruit juices.
Take care of your heart this week and include more plants and healthy fats into your day!
The truth is that you cannot target specific body parts in which to lose fat because you cannot choose from where your body will oxidize fat. For example, by doing triceps extensions you won’t decrease the amount of fat on the back of your arms. If you want to lose fat in your arms you have to aim to decrease overall body fat percentage and your body will gradually tone up in the arm area. So “spot reduction” of body fat is just a myth, in order to get rid of fat in “problem areas” you need to aim to decrease body fat as a whole.
Another thing to consider is that with age everybody loses elasticity in their skin which means it doesn’t fit as snug around their arm anymore. Even though we lose skin elasticity with age, we can combat other effects of aging with resistance training. By using resistance training, you can keep your muscles and bones strong and healthy.
Don’t forget to track your progress when losing fat, so you can see the difference. A lot of times what can happen if you just weigh yourself is you gain muscle as your losing fat so it seems like progress is minimal. An efficient way to track progress is by taking measurements. That way you can visualize where you’re losing body fat from, but don’t let that misguide you into thinking “spot reducing” of body fat is a real thing. Another method we offer is comprehensive fitness assessments that include body composition testing, if you are interested in accurately tracking your results/progress. Feel free to ask a trainer or instructor to help you with measurements or comprehensive fitness assessment at any time.
Fitness Tip Guest Gontributor: Zack Reighard