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Heart healthy eating tips from Dr. Martin.

When it comes to heart health, diet is a critical component. Anyone interested in heart healthy eating should focus on changing how they eat rather than focus on a specific diet. We can learn a lot from the Mediterranean eating habits, which focuses on consuming fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains. But really, any type of low-fat eating is good for your heart.

First, let me clear up a myth about cholesterol. Our bodies make cholesterol naturally, so no matter how hard we try, we will always have cholesterol in our system. Totally eliminating it is not possible. Now, it is possible to have too much cholesterol. When we eat saturated fat, we produce more cholesterol. Our body uses saturated fat very well to make cholesterol. Therefore, if you decrease the amount of saturated fat you eat, you will decrease the amount of cholesterol your body produces.

Some foods are very high in both saturated fat and cholesterol, such as mutton or certain cuts of beef or pork. In contrast, foods like fish and chicken are very low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Other foods, like shrimp, have high cholesterol but are low in saturated fat. These high cholesterol but low in saturated fat foods are a better choice than a food with high cholesterol and high saturated fat.

Some general food guidelines are:

  • Eat fried food only occasionally.
  • Consume more fish and chicken than beef and pork.
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains.
  • When you do eat beef and pork, choose the leanest cuts available.
  • Avoid simple carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, white potatoes, and sugar.
  • If you are overweight, getting the excess weight off is important. Getting your cholesterol to lower is often difficult when you're carrying around excess weight.

To get the weight off, I recommend the following:

  • Changing your eating habits
  • Weight Watchers
  • South Beach Diet
  • Sugar Busters

For more intense cholesterol control there are more specific diets like:

  • The Dr. Dean Ornish way of eating
  • The Pritikin Diet
  • Forks over Knives

Ask Dr. Martin's opinion on other diets to see if they are heart healthy. Getting regular exercise is also important. The exercise you do does not have to be marathon running or anything intense. It can be walking briskly, swimming, bicycling, or anything else that elevates your heart rate and gets your blood pumping. Aim for 25 minutes of exercise each day.

Quit Smoking

There is no benefit to smoking whatsoever. In fact, cigarette smoking is one of the main risk factors for coronary artery disease.

Granted, quitting smoking is not always easy. Smoking is an ingrained habit. If you're trying to quit smoking, talk with your doctor. He or she can likely recommend some medications to help you quit or some other resources.

Know your risk

If you have a strong family history of coronary artery disease, then it's worthwhile to have some blood work done, check your blood pressure regularly, and adopt some healthy life habits like exercising daily and not smoking. While doing so won't guarantee you'll never have a heart problem, it will improve your chances of keeping your heart healthy and strong. Google Framingham Risk Score to check your risk of heart attack.