Cardiologist James Beckerman shares his healthy heart solutions, plus doctor-approved recipes for eating well
By Esther Sung
Keeping your heart healthy: You know it's important, especially if you're genetically predisposed to cardiovascular disease, including heart attack or stroke. But even if you're not, the lifestyle changes required to achieve and maintain heart health can seem daunting, especially when it comes to your diet. How do you lead a heart-healthy lifestyle while also managing to have fun and eat well?
Cardiologist and heart expert for WebMD.com James Beckerman, M.D. tackles these challenges in his new book The Flex Diet: Design Your Own Weight-Loss Plan. Because his approach gives you the freedom to pick and choose which solution to follow, the likelihood of long-term success-a lowered risk for heart disease-is high, Dr. Beckerman maintains. "If I was going to prescribe a lifestyle that was the same for everybody, it would be lost on a lot of people, because it doesn't apply to them," says Beckerman. "It's no fun to focus your life on low carbs or low fat or low cholesterol. I'd rather focus on a general healthier lifestyle. And I think in the long term, that's going to be more effective primarily because people will be able to do it. My goal as a physician is to give people tools they can use not only to look good and feel good but also to get healthier." Here, Beckerman shares with Epicurious some of the immediate steps food lovers can take toward eating for a healthier heart while enjoying delicious cuisine.
Dr. Beckerman's Solutions:
Know Your Numbers
The three indicators of good heart health-weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol-are "easily measured, easily reproducible, and easy to remember," notes Beckerman. So why focus on weight loss? "People care deeply about their weight, and for lots of different reasons. And heart health usually is not one of them. I don't mind getting to your heart through your stomach." With even just a few dietary changes, your numbers can improve.
Avoid Processed Foods
Traditionally, the focus for a healthy heart has been a low-cholesterol diet. However, a Harvard School of Public Health study suggests that the real culprit behind heart disease may not be high-cholesterol foods but, rather, processed foods. Beckerman advises continuing a low-saturated-fat diet but also reducing the amount of processed meats and foods you consume while increasing your intake of healthy fats and fiber. Buying fresh produce a farmers' market and preparing your own meals at home can help with this.
Cook to Stay Fit
"We need to figure out ways in our own lives on how to have simple, easy recipes that get the job done for us." For Beckerman, "it's not about focusing on the numbers [calories, fat, cholesterol] so much as it is [embracing] the gist of it and the lifestyle that will go with it." Epicurious can help: Healthy Dinner Tonight delivers a nutritious, doable recipe daily, and for those who like to keep tabs on "the numbers," the Epicurious database is replete with recipes that are high in fiber , low-fat , low-cholesterol , or low-sodium .
Eat These Six Foods Today
The first part of The Flex Diet highlights foods everyone can start eating right now: almonds, apples, grapes, Greek yogurt, flaxseeds, and pine nuts. "People like to snack, so the last thing they want to hear when they look at a weight loss or wellness program is that they're going to be deprived of something. I offer these partially for their variety and partially because they are higher in fiber and higher in protein. These are the kinds of snacks that keep people fuller, longer," counsels Beckerman. They're also ingredients that are very easy to add to any meal.
Almonds: Stick to the unsalted ones to avoid bumping up your blood pressure as you add these protein- and vitamin-rich nuts to your diet. recipe to try: Toasted Almond Tofu Burgers
Apples: "Despite having similar amounts of fiber and calories, fruits and cookies differ in energy density, which impacts fullness and ultimately influences what else you choose to eat over the course of the day," writes Beckerman. recipe to try: Baked Apples Stuffed with Dried Fruits and Pecans
Grapes: Beckerman likes grapes because they'll satisfy a sweet tooth and their high-water content helps make you feel fuller. recipe to try: Fruit Salad with Honey Lime Dressing
Greek yogurt: Not all yogurts are alike. Beckerman points out that f-- e Total 0% Plain Greek yogurt has almost double the protein per serving as Dannon All Natural Nonfat Plain. It's the protein that will help satisfy your hunger. recipe to try: Apricots, Yogurt, and Honey
Flaxseeds: Beckerman writes that "flaxseed is recommended for dieters because it decreases the digestibility (and absorption) of fat." recipe to try: Flaxseed, Fig, and Walnut Crackers
Pine Nuts: Beckerman is a fan: "Pne nut oil contains pinolenic acid, a fatty acid that stimulates the body to produce two natural appetite suppressants." recipe to try: Fish in Pine Nut Sauce
A Breakfast Solution
Fruit Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing
A Lunch Solution
A Dinner Solution
Broiled Grapefruit with Vanilla Ginger Sugar
Side and Snack Solutions
To learn more about James Beckerman, M.D. F.A.C.C., visit theflexdiet.com.
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