Weighing in on staying heart healthy

October 05, 2022 | by Aileen Waldschmidt, LDN, RD
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

Most of us know that what we eat matters if we want to keep our hearts healthy. As a result, we try to make healthy choices, like passing up the salt shaker or ordering a fruit salad instead of those greasy fries.

For many, the most difficult part of keeping a heart-healthy relationship with food is getting to a healthy weight and staying there. People may try one of the latest fad diets or one of the impossible sounding crash diets that celebrities often promote.

The challenge is separating facts from the hype about what’s effective and safe for weight management and heart health. That’s when consulting a weight management professional can help.

The key to any good weight management program is tailoring the approach to the individual. Some people who consult a dietitian may just need to tweak their food choices and exercise habits, while others may need a lifestyle overhaul which includes smoking cessation and stress management.

For those who are severely overweight, bariatric surgery should not be discounted as a weight management option. This type of intervention has been shown to help people with heart problems.

Then there are diets like Paleolithic diet. Following this popular diet might not be a desirable approach because it eliminates grains and dairy. Although there are some limited, short-term studies that show benefits for heart health. If someone tells me they want to try it, I would recommend additional fruits and especially dark green vegetables and nuts for more cardio-protective benefits.

Before fully embracing the Paleo diet for weight and heart health, I would like to see more long-term studies. Research has shown Mediterranean and DASH diets to be beneficial for heart health.

A recent study on “crash dieting” and its effect on heart health gained a lot of attention. The study involved 21 participants who consumed a diet of 600-800 calories a day for eight weeks. After a week, total body fat, liver fat, and visceral fat (deep abdominal fat) had significantly decreased. Also, participants showed improvements in total cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure.

However, there was also an alarming effect: participants’ heart fat rose by 44 percent, which led to a slowdown in heart function. The good news was that this effect was short-lived — by the eighth week, heart fat and heart function both improved and became better than before.

My takeaway is that very low calorie diets may offer benefits for heart health, but should be followed only with the help of medical professionals. For your safety, always ask your doctor before embarking on this type of meal plan, especially if you already have heart problems.

The Endeavor Health and Weight Management team at Edward-Elmhurst Health, which includes bariatric surgeons, bariatricians (physicians who specialize in weight loss), dietitians, psychologists, exercise physiologists and nurses, helps patients manage their weight in a safe and healthy manner.

We are here to encourage patients and provide options, not to be judgmental. Instead, we offer support, education and tools to make the journey easier, and accountability to help them achieve their weight loss goals.

Our hope is that patients develop into intuitive eaters by learning how to listen to their internal cues of physical hunger. This can eventually become mindful eating, which means they no longer just eat in response to external cues such as the sight or smell of food, or because of emotions such as boredom or stress.

The ultimate goal of any weight management program should be to help the person find a lifestyle of increased activity and healthy eating patterns that they can maintain for life.

Learn more about heart and vascular services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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