Although it might seem trite, a food pyramid is still a good tool for learning how to eat healthier. Categories of foods are arranged in sections within a pyramid as an easy-to-remember visual guide of the types and quantities of foods to be eaten. Categories near the pyramid’s base take up more space and represent foods that should be eaten in greater quantities and more frequently. Categories near the top of the pyramid are for foods that should be consumed in smaller quantities and less frequently.
Reducing saturated fats and cholesterol is important to improving heart-health, but it’s not a stand-alone solution. A balanced diet that includes categories of foods from a food pyramid, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, is necessary to achieve optimum heart-health.
The Mayo Clinic provides a Healthy Weight Pyramid tool on their Web site. The site also provides food pyramids for healthy diets that fit a variety of lifestyles:
- Latin American
If you compare the categories from the pyramids on the Mayo Clinic’s site, you’ll see that every pyramid includes a small amount of fat daily as part of a healthy diet — as long as it’s the right type and eaten in moderation.
Basic principles apply
With a variety of food pyramids to choose from, why not choose the one that most closely matches your preferences and lifestyle? The basic principles of a healthy diet are the same on all pyramids displayed on the Mayo Clinic’s Web site:
- Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Reduce intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol.
- Limit sweets and salt.
- Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation, if at all.
- Control portion sizes and the total number of calories you consume.
- Include physical activity in your daily routine.
Dining out can be challenging for people trying to maintain a heart-healthy diet. According to a report by the National Restaurant Association , the average American eats out more than 4 times a week. Based on three meals a day, that’s nearly 20 percent of total meals eaten during a week.
Recognizing fat on the menu matters
There are times when eating out is preferable or simply just unavoidable — lunch tops the list for the meal eaten out most often. But since food eaten out can be one-fifth of an average week’s meals, it’s important to learn how to limit the amount of fat in foods ordered.
Meals eaten out aren’t served with an ingredient list or food labels, so it can be difficult to know which foods will help to maintain a heart-healthy diet. With a few pointers, you can recognize which menu items are most likely to be high in fat and which foods are better bets. And with a few modifications, a fat meal can become leaner.
Tips for reducing fat
Make better choices when dining out with these tips from American Dietetic Association:
- Choose foods from the menu that have been baked, braised, grilled, broiled or poached. There is usually less fat required in cooking.
- Avoid foods that are described as batter fried, pan fried, creamed, crispy or breaded.
- Order sandwiches without mayonnaise or bacon. Ask that mayonnaise and sauces to be placed on the side and use sparingly.
- To avoid eating too much before the meal arrives, ask to have the bread and chips delivered with your meal.
- Replace French fries and chips with fruit or a baked potato. Skip the sour cream and butter altogether and top baked potatoes with salsa and a sprinkle of cheese instead.
- If portions are large, split the meal with your dining partner or take the other half home.
For a complete list of tips, visit the American Dietetic Association’s Web site.
Learning how to reduce cholesterol levels is easy; putting the information to practical use, not so easy. With seemingly small decisions as what to eat for breakfast having a major impact on cholesterol levels, it’s no wonder the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that someone dies from a coronary event every minute.
But if I’m going to manage my cholesterol levels and reduce my risk of having a coronary event, I’ll need to find practical ways to improve my diet.
According to guidelines published by the American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee, a major first step in reducing cholesterol levels is to limit overall fat intake to no more than 35% of calories needed to maintain a healthy weight.
I suppose I could keep a running total of fat calories in the food I eat each day, but that wouldn’t be enough. Within overall fat intake, saturated fats should be limited to less than 7% of total calories, and trans fatty acids should be substituted with unsaturated fats, which are reported to help reduce cholesterol levels.
Let’s see how this correlates with my breakfast. The label on my carton of 2% milk states that just one serving has 5 grams of total fat and 3 grams of saturated fat, or 8% and 15% respectively of the daily value for a 2,000 calorie diet. And at 231 milligrams of cholesterol, one egg – by the way, this includes eggs used in baked goods – almost exceeds my entire day’s worth of recommended cholesterol from food sources.
I’m going to need more research, and I’ll definitely need to get out a pen and pad to tally my fat intake for the rest of the day.
Cardiovascular disease is the number-one killer of women in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. Each year, more women die from cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attack and stroke, than all forms of cancer combined. And over the past twenty-five years, it’s claimed the lives of more women than men.
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with high cholesterol – a major risk factor contributing to the development of cardiovascular disease. Like most women, I didn’t think having high cholesterol was serious at first. My weight was average, and I’d been living a healthy lifestyle and eating the right foods. I felt fine; how could anything be wrong?
Prevent heart attack, stroke:
A certain amount of cholesterol is necessary for good health. The liver produces about 75% of the body’s cholesterol needs and the rest is supplied from food. But because cholesterol is waxy, it doesn’t dissolve and must be transported through the bloodstream by lipoproteins. When there’s not enough high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is believed to transport cholesterol out of the body, and too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL), cholesterol sticks to the artery walls. Eventually, plaque forms and begins to build, restricting the flow of blood to the heart and brain. This can lead to heart attack or stroke.
Luckily, of all the risk factors contributing to cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol is one of the most controllable. Many times, diet and exercise are all that’s needed. A combination of treatments, including diet, exercise and medications may also be prescribed. My doctor has determined that diet and exercise, along with certain supplements, may be all that’s necessary for me.