24 February 11 Weight Loss Diets & Heart Health

Chances are good that if you are reading this post, you are already in the process of losing weight if you are overweight. Fantastic! Since obesity (BMI ? 30) is one of the six major risk factors for heart disease, losing weight is very important for reducing your risk of heart disease. The other five major risk factors are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels (and low HDL level), smoking, diabetes and lack of exercise.

Generally, weight loss from a combination of diet and exercise will result in heart healthy blood cholesterol changes, i.e., lower total cholesterol, LDL, and triglyceride levels and a higher HDL level. However, some diets might shift your blood cholesterol levels in directions that are not conducive to heart health. Ideally, get your blood cholesterol panel measured before and during weight loss so that you and your doctor can monitor the heart healthfulness of your weight loss eating plan.

Low Fat, High Carb Diets

In an effort to lower calories while also lowering LDL and total cholesterol levels, many organizations recommend a low fat, calorie-controlled diet to lose weight. This is effective but there are a couple of red flags regarding this diet type.

If you lower calories from fat and increase calories from carbs, you might inadvertently drop your HDL level and increase your triglyceride level. If the shift is small and your levels are still within healthy ranges (HDL > 40 mg/dl for men, > 50 mg/dl for women and triglycerides <150 mg/dl), then just keep monitoring your levels. However, if the shift results in levels that are outside of the healthy ranges, then consider increasing calories from the heart healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) while lowering calories from carbs (especially from sugars and refined carbs).

Low Carb, High Fat Diets

If you prefer the appetite-lowering effects of a low carb diet such as Atkins, then be careful to have your LDL level monitored. Some research shows that the Atkins Diet, a diet where you carefully restrict grams of carbs, but do not restrict fats and proteins, can raise your LDL level. However, research also shows that HDLs can rise and triglycerides can decrease on this diet – which are heart healthy changes.

Both low-fat and low-carb diets can promote long-term weight loss. For more information, see Foster et al.'s "Weight and Metabolic Outcomes After 2 Years on a Low-Carbohydrate Versus Low-Fat Diet: A Randomized Trial."

Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fats

Regardless of the type of eating plan you follow to lose weight, most of the fat you consume should be monounsaturated and polyunsaturated if you wish to support heart health. Monounsaturated fats are plant-based, with the richest sources coming from olive, canola, and peanut oils, nuts (especially peanuts, pistachios, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, and pecans), seeds (especially pumpkin and sesame), olives, and avocado.

Polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3 fats, come from both plants and fish/seafood. Flax, walnuts, canola oil, and soybeans are especially high in alpha-linolenic acid, the omega-3 fat found in plants. EPA and DHA are the omega-3 fats found in fish and seafood. These fats are considered to have the most potent effects on heart health. Choices that maximize DHA and EPA content while minimizing contaminants (e.g. mercury and PCBs) are wild salmon (fresh, frozen, or canned), Atlantic herring, anchovies, Atlantic mackerel, sardines and trout.

If these foods appeal to you, then consider exploring the Mediterranean diet. This is an eating style that can promote weight loss while maximizing heart health. Your intake will be mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, a small amount of dairy (cheese or yogurt), meat, and poultry and 1-2 glasses of red wine.
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


Foods & Recipes/Nuts & Seeds Meal Planning & Diets/Low Fat & High Fat Meal Planning & Diets/Mediterranean Style Nutrients/Fats Other Health Issues/Cardiovascular Disease

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