Cut the Sugar, Up the Good Fats
Stony Brook Medicine Registered Dietician Gives New Strategies for Heart Healthy Nutrition
STONY BROOK, NY, February 20, 2015 – Eggs, anyways you like them, might be back on the breakfast menu. For decades, dietary cholesterol has been the focus of nutrition-related heart disease prevention. But now, as the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is preparing its 2015 report, new evidence has opened up the discussion that dietary cholesterol may not play as harmful of a role in heart disease as once thought.
Presently the recommendation is to keep your cholesterol intake under 300 milligrams per day, which you can exceed by eating just two eggs. While cholesterol in your body does play a role in heart disease, most of it is made by your liver, which means the effect of dietary cholesterol is small to nonexistent. So if you are trying to adjust heart disease risk through your diet, there might be a better approach.
“For optimal heart health, current nutrition recommendations include a focus on reducing sugar, increasing dietary fiber and improving the fat profile of your diet in favor of healthy unsaturated fats like those found in nuts, seeds, seafood and oils such as olive and canola,” says Registered Dietician, Leah Holbrook, MS, Clinical Instructor of Family Medicine, Stony Brook Medicine. “Avoiding dietary cholesterol is no longer a focus of most counseling sessions with a dietitian/nutritionist since dietary cholesterol is not as responsible for nudging up blood cholesterol and increasing other risk factors for heart disease as saturated fat, trans fat and sugar are.”
“The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to 6 teaspoons per day for women (24 grams) and 9 teaspoons for men (36 grams),” says Holbrook. “Just one 12oz bottle of soda has approximately 39 grams of sugar. One way to cut the sugar out of your diet is to cut out soda and sugary drinks.”
Sweetened beverages are the largest source of sugar for many people. While avoiding soda is a great start, sports drinks, flavored milks and fruit juice also contain sugar. Avoid sweetened beverages, opting instead for plain water, seltzer or unsweetened tea. If drinking milk, choose low fat, plain.
Breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day, but a meal that is notoriously high in sugar and low in healthy fats. “Instead of a low fat, sweetened cereal and juice to drink, try increasing fiber and satisfying fats with a plain oatmeal topped with fresh fruit and walnuts or a veggie egg omelet and a side of fruit,” Holbrook suggests.
As of now, the nutrition facts label does not differentiate between naturally-occurring and added sugar; it only identifies “total sugar”. “The Food and Drug Administration are proposing an updated food label that would include both types – the timeline for that is unavailable but it would be a big step forward in assisting consumers looking to improve their diet by avoiding excessive amounts of sugar,” says Holbrook.
Until the food label differentiates between added sugars and naturally-occurring, the ingredient list is the best source for information about the sugar content of a packaged food. “Ingredients are in descending order by weight, so sugar higher up in the list means more of it,” says Holbrook. When choosing packaged foods such as cereals, condiments, breads and convenience or snack foods, Holbrook suggests trying to avoid products with added sugar in the ingredient list by looking for these common terms: sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, cane sugar, molasses, and malt sugar.
But other than just cutting the sugar out of your diet, Holbrook says there are things that needs to be added. “A heart healthy diet should be built around an abundance of colorful vegetables, high quality carbohydrates (which increases dietary fiber and lowers sugar intake such as beans, winter squashes, and quinoa), lean protein sources (chicken, turkey, seafood and eggs) and healthful fats (nuts, nut butters, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, and fatty fish).”
Not sure which fats are good for you and which are not? Food labels do offer some very valuable information when it comes to trans fat – the worst fat for you. “Avoid foods with any trans fat by looking in the ingredient list for “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” vegetable oil,” Holbrook suggests. “If the label itself claims not to have any trans fat but the ingredient list has this ingredient, steer clear. There is a nuance in the federal trans fat labeling law that allows for this loophole.”
And as for which fats to include? Holbrook suggests monounsaturated and some polyunsaturated fats, which are cardio-protective and help to bring down inflammation— a precursor to many chronic illnesses including heart disease. “Foods rich in these fats include many oils with canola, olive and flaxseed oil having the most preferable profile, as well as nuts, seeds, avocado and fatty fish,” says Holbrook. “The greatest benefit comes from substituting these healthier fats for foods high in saturated fats such as butter, lard, creamy dressings, fatty meats and sugary, fatty baked goods.”