Skittles had it right with its encouraging slogan of “taste the rainbow.” Unfortunately, a diet of Skittles isn’t going to help ward off heart disease.
“Foods with bright colors are packed with the antioxidants that reduce the inflammation that leads to heart disease,” says Nicolette M. Pace, R.D., the founder of NutriSource Inc., which specializes in nutrition-based disease prevention and treatment. “Red and yellow have the carotenoids: Carrots, tomatoes, apricots and cantaloupes are all high sources. Red also has lycopene and lutein. The polyphenols in berries and grapes protect the arteries from free radical damage, too.”
The re-thinking of fats is significant news in heart disease prevention: What was bad is now thought of as good, or at least OK. For example, a bit of butter in your diet won’t be the end of the world, Pace says, but margarine and other processed substitutes should be used with caution: “Now, the thinking is that over-processed fat products can cause artery damage.”
Also OK? “Animal fats in moderation,” she says, which means you don’t have to put down the bacon entirely: “Bacon has been taken off the taboo list, but it’s a fat, not a protein, and should be used to flavor.” What Pace says to take off your list? Surprisingly, it’s turkey bacon, because it’s “a horrible processed product,” she says.
Even alcohol isn’t seen as such a demon anymore. “Wine has health benefits, and it’s not just the polyphenols, it’s the alcohol,” says Pace. “The benefit comes from moderate drinking. That’s not five drinks in one session, that’s five drinks in a week.”
Pace also advises adopting a whole food diet with natural fiber-rich foods such as whole grains and beans, which decrease coronary risks by controlling blood sugars and weight.
The foods to cut right now
Pace recommends re-evaluating fat, salt, sugar and calorie-laden snack foods: “Snack foods are generally low satiety. They’re usually the things we crave because of the salty or sweet flavor, or the crunch appeal. And they are usually the things that are easily and quickly consumed. Also, sweetened beverages, not just sodas, but the flavored coffees and the so-called healthy smoothies loaded with fat and high fructose corn syrup. Those are bad for the heart.”