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 Nutrition at Heart: A series of articles about heart-healthy nutrition.
A series of articles about heart-healthy nutrition


Healthy Fats in Mediterranean Diet Won't Boost Weight
Vegetable oils, nuts can be a part of a healthful diet, experts say

Olive oil is a key component of the Mediterranean Diet.A report published June 6, 2016, in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology says an eating plan that includes healthy fats such as olive oil and nuts isn't likely to cause weight gain.

"The fat content of foods and diets is simply not a useful metric to judge long-term harms or benefits," Dariush Mozaffarian, professor in the School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University in Boston, wrote in an accompanying commentary.

"Energy density and total caloric contents can be similarly misleading. Rather, modern scientific evidence supports an emphasis on eating more calories from fruits, nuts, vegetables, beans, fish, yogurt, phenolic-rich vegetable oils, and minimally processed whole grains; and fewer calories from highly processed foods rich in starch, sugar, salt, or trans-fat," Mozaffarian explained.

"Dietary guidelines should be revised to lay to rest the outdated, arbitrary limits on total fat consumption. Calorie-obsessed caveats and warnings about healthier, higher-fat choices such as nuts, phenolic-rich vegetable oils, yogurt, and even perhaps cheese, should also be dropped," Mozaffarian wrote.

Understanding Food Labels
by Texas Heart InstituteFood Label

When was the last time you looked at a food label and completely understood what it said? Although they are a part of our everyday lives, few have had lessons on how to actually read these correctly. Let’s get back to basics and go line by line.

Serving size 

Compare the serving size listed to the amount you actually eat. Remember that eating more (or less) than the serving-size amount means that you are getting more (or less) of the nutrients listed on the label. In this example, if you were to eat the entire container of food, you would actually be getting twice the amount of nutrients listed on the label.

Calories and calories from fat

We need food to live because it gives us energy, and we measure the amount of energy in foods in units called calories. There are three different kinds of nutrients that supply energy: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Each gram of carbohydrate or protein equals 4 calories of energy, and each gram of fat equals 9 calories of energy… [Read More]

Photo credit: U.S. Food & Drug Administration; sample, for illustrative purposes only

The Scoop on Vitamins
by Texas Heart InstituteGrapefruit

Vitamins are substances that perform specific functions for your body's reproduction and growth. Vitamins regulate your body's metabolism, which controls the amount of energy you have to do things like walking, sleeping, or thinking.

Necessary nutrients 

Doctors have also found that certain vitamins might help prevent coronary artery disease. Vitamins A, C, and E appear to deter plaque from forming on artery walls. Plaque forms because oxygen and LDL ("bad") cholesterol combine in a process called "oxidation." Vitamins A, C, and E are called "antioxidants" because they slow or stop the plaque-forming process… [Read More]

Photo credit: Renee Comet, NCI

Fat: The Saturated, the Unsaturated, and the Trans
by Texas Heart InstituteFats

Dietary fat is an important part of your daily nutrition, but you only need a small amount to keep your body's chemistry in balance.

Dietary fat comes in 2 basic forms: saturated and unsaturated.

Saturated fat 

Saturated fat is the type of fat that raises your cholesterol and increases your risk of heart disease. Main sources of saturated fat are the butter fat in milk products, fat from red meat, and tropical oils such as coconut oil. Keeping your saturated fat intake low is very important. Try these 14 simple ways to reduce your saturated fat.

Unsaturated fat 

This type of fat is better for you. It comes in 2 forms: monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Vegetable oils are the best-known sources of unsaturated fat. Keep in mind, though, that a "100% vegetable oil"… [Read More]

Photo credit: Renee Comet, NCI

In Search of Heart-Healthy Recipes
by Texas Heart InstituteTriple Berry Napoleons

Where can you go to get heart-healthy recipes from credible sources? Look no further than the Texas Heart Institute Pinterest page. We have boards covering recipes for adults, kids, and even for holidays. 

We even have a few tasty recipes created just for us by Chef Amanda DeJesus, a heart transplant patient who is working on a cookbook of heart-healthy recipes… [Read More] 


The Secrets Behind Dieting Success
by Texas Heart InstituteVegetarian

According to the U.S. News & World Report second annual rankings, the two most successful diets according to dieters were Weight Watchers with a 71% success rate and Vegetarian with a 92% success rate. What distinguishes these diets? Why do dieters find so much more success with them?

My theory: while calorie counting is critical to the success of any diet, the real difference in success or failure can be found in social support.

The psychology behind social support 

The Weight Watchers program emphasizes the use of friends, family, and group meetings with other dieters to accomplish weight loss goals. Because vegetarianism is a way of life for many people, those trying a vegetarian diet can find ample support through active social groups, vegetarian restaurants, and much more. Studies show that women who involve friends and family in lifestyle changes are more likely to stick to them.

This social support phenomenon is best explained… [Read More]

Photo credit: Renee Comet, NCI

What Do Heart Doctors Say About Nutrition?
by Texas Heart InstituteAsk a Texas Heart Institute Doctor

At Texas Heart Institute we have a free online service called Ask A Heart Doctor that allows people from all over the world to submit a question to our professional staff. Of course we get many questions about nutrition and heart health. 

See what others have asked using the search tool or submit your own question… [Learn More] 

Follow the Guidelines for a Healthy Diet
by Texas Heart Institute

The US Department of Agriculture and Department of USDA logoHealth and Human Services provide us with Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They focus on:

  • balancing calories with physical activity,
  • encouraging us to eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and seafood, and
  • urging us to eat less sodium, saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and refined grains.

Many people don’t know about these guidelines. They offer helpful tips and some great ways to stay on a healthy path. Read the executive summary to get the basics down... [Read More]

Photo credit: USDA

Some Big Facts About Fat
by Texas Heart InstituteEggs

The fats in the foods we eat play important roles in our bodies, but the facts can be confusing when we are making dietary choices. Maybe the answers to these common questions on eggs, butter, and oil will clear up misunderstandings about dietary fat and its cousin, cholesterol. We enlisted St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital clinical dietitians Rita Zapien and Brigid McVaugh to help us tackle these often puzzling but important questions. 

Will eggs increase my cholesterol?   

The USDA recently reviewed egg nutrient data. The average amount of cholesterol in a Grade A large egg is 185 mg. (It used to be 213 mg.) Like people, hens eat better these days! This means it’s much easier to eat eggs—which are low in saturated fat and high in vitamins and minerals—on a heart healthy diet… [Read More]

Photo credit: Renee Comet, NCI

How to Make Nutrition Fun for Kids
by Texas Heart Institute
Project Heart

At Texas Heart Institute, we believe that children should get involved in their own heart health, and getting heart-healthy starts with nutrition! Our Project Heart program for kids in grades K-6 has fun tools just for them. Try some of these cool activities, brought to you by the Project Heart Robot, Cool-E.

  • Take the Healthy Chef Challenge: Explore the kitchen and learn 12 healthy kid recipes, how to plan a healthy menu, how to modify existing recipes, and more.
  • Nutrition Match! Online Game: Learn about the basic food groups plus food group impostors like those that are too high in fat, sugar, and salt in this fun tile matching game.
  • Best Served Cold Online Game: Help Cool-E get revenge on the impostors by collecting foods from the five food groups and stomping on those that have too much sugar, fat, or salt. Learn about healthy food choices in this classic side scrolling adventure game.
  • Fun Facts on Nutrition: Learn some interesting facts about minerals, vitamins, and more with this interactive presentation on nutrition.
  • The Facts on Food Labels: A printout worksheet that shows kids how to read a nutrition facts food label.
  • Bakery Buff Cool-E Shorty: How much does it take to burn off a piece of chocolate cake? Learn about energy balance in Cool-E’s bakery.
  • Beets Me Cool-E Shorty: Learn about fruits and vegetables in Cool-E’s garden.
  • What’s In the Kitchen? Cool-E Shorty: Investigate the sites and sounds of Chef Cool-E’s kitchen full of cooking tools.
  • Plates and Pyramids Cool-E Shorty: Explore an interactive Food Guide Pyramid, MyPyramid and MyPlate.

[Learn More]


Tips for Reducing Salt Intake
by Texas Heart Institute
Salted pretzel

Salt is a mineral. Although your body needs minerals to work properly, salt can raise blood pressure in people who are sensitive to its effects. Even if you are not sensitive to salt's effects, you will not benefit from eating a lot of salty foods.

In general, try to limit your sodium intake to less than 2300 mg a day, roughly the amount in a teaspoon of salt. The dietary guidelines recommend a limit of 1500 mg a day for adults over 51 years of age and for high-risk populations. Ask your doctor or dietitian about your sodium limit. 

Take control   

Get your salt intake under control with these helpful tips.

  1. Limit the amount of potato chips and other salty snacks that you eat
  2. Try salt-free seasonings
  3. Try using herbs, spices, and other options instead of salt… [Read More]

Photo credit: Renee Comet, NCI

Carbohydrates 101
by Texas Heart InstituteCarbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel in a balanced diet. The body converts carbohydrates to "glucose," which is a type of sugar. 

Your body uses some of this glucose right away for energy. Any extra glucose is converted into another sugar called "glycogen," which is stored for future use. Once your body has made enough glycogen, the leftover glucose is stored as fat. 

Beyond just bread   

Sugars and starches are both carbohydrates. Sugars are called "simple carbohydrates" or "simple sugars." The most common form of simple sugar is glucose. When glucose molecules link together, they create a number of larger molecules called "complex carbohydrates." Starches and fiber are examples of complex carbohydrates… [Read More]

Photo credit: Renee Comet, NCI

Surprising Facts About Blood Pressure
by Texas Heart Institutesalt_websm

Hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure, is known as "the silent killer." More than 76 million Americans have high blood pressure, and as many as 16 million of them do not even know they have the condition. If left untreated, high blood pressure greatly increases your risk for heart attack and stroke. 

Nutrition for prevention   

A low-salt, low-fat diet and exercise can help prevent and control high blood pressure. Research has shown that about 80% of Texas high school students and 75% of adults in Texas consume fewer than five fruits and vegetables each day… [Read More] 

Nutrition Infographic - Good Nutrition Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease
by Texas Heart Institute

Nutrition Infographic - Reduce Risk of Heart Disease


Is Alcohol Good or Bad for the Heart?
by Texas Heart InstituteAlcohol

Drinking alcohol affects your heart. Medical research shows that a moderate amount of alcohol each day protects against heart disease and heart attacks. Experts say that moderate intake is an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. One drink is defined as 1½ fluid ounces (fl oz) of 80-proof spirits (such as bourbon, Scotch, vodka, gin, etc.), 1 fl oz of 100-proof spirits, 4 fl oz of wine, or 12 fl oz of beer.

What do the experts say?

Around the holiday season Texas Heart Institute president and medical director Dr. James T. Willerson was asked by the Houston Chronicle if drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol can have a negative impact on heart health. Dr. Willerson answered in the affirmative. 

"It can actually cause heart-related problems such as high blood pressure, stroke, irregular heartbeats and cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle)," he said. "Also, remember that the average drink has 100 to 200 calories that often add body fat, which can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease."… [Read More]
Photo credit: Len Rizzi, NCI


Top 5 Myths About Cholesterol Debunked
March 5, 2013 by Texas Heart Institute

Keeping your cholesterol in check is one important way to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.  As simple as this may sound, we've found that many people have bought into some of the cholesterol myths and legends, making it difficult to make heart-healthy decisions. Let’s debunk a few of those cholesterol myths!

Myth #1: All cholesterol is bad cholesterol  

False: Your body actually needs cholesterol to form cell membranes and even make certain hormones. Your own liver naturally produces cholesterol for these specific purposes. Extra cholesterol enters the body when we eat foods that come from animals, like meats, eggs, and dairy products.

Furthermore, there are two main types of cholesterol in the body: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL)… [Read More]

Photo credit: Renee Comet, National Cancer Institute (NCI)

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