Healthy Eating: Put
Your Heart Into It
By Deanna Minich, Ph.D.
From our book
Bypassing Bypass, published in 2002
The heart takes on a mystical
quality for most of us for good reasons. Not only is it crucial to
our health, daily performance and life, it is the seat of emotions
and the divining rod between body and spirit. When you know your
heart, feel through your heart and perceive with your heart, you
become the very essence of your being.
How many of us are truly
connected to what we feel in our internal depth? Given its
importance to life itself and the emotional energy generated by our
hearts, most of us have difficulty actually “being in our heart”.
Heart disease can result when we harden ourselves to our true
feelings. Ultimately, we paralyze our true self, causing pain so
intense it can feel like a heart attack.
Since we are complex beings made
of many different layers, I believe that matters of the heart should
be approached holistically by addressing physical (diet and
exercise), emotional and spiritual needs. I make a conscious effort
to combine these factors in assisting someone in the healing
process. The focus of this article will be primarily on nutrition,
or nourishment, for the heart from food. What we eat, how
we eat and what we feel and think when we eat can influence
each aspect of our being, especially our heart. Conversely, our
heart can play a role in our food choices and style of eating.
Therefore, food and nutrition play an integral role in our heart
What foods are important for
a healthy heart?
In general, my approach to
health through eating is through whole foods. The goal is to
get as many nutrients from nature as possible. My cornerstone belief
is that we need to eat according to nature and our body’s physiology
in order to feel a sense of well-being and prevent us from disease.
It is essential to integrate appropriate food choices and
perspectives on eating into a way of life.
Eat a Nutritional Rainbow of
Vegetables, Especially the Green Ones
The heart energy center is often
referred to as being green- or sometimes rose-colored. Foods, which
are green in color, such as vegetables, are very harmonious for the
heart energy. Examples of excellent green vegetable choices would be
spinach, collards, kale, dandelion, mustard greens, turnip greens
and Swiss chard. Additionally, sprouts are superb sources of highly
concentrated nutrients and contain relatively large amounts of
living enzymes that assist in the digestion and assimilation of
Although I give special
attention to the green vegetables, essentially all vegetables are
beneficial for the heart and consuming a variety is key. Deeper,
darker colors of vegetables tend to have higher levels of vitamins,
minerals and nutrients, which are good for the heart – for example,
spinach contains more carotenoids (e.g., lutein) than iceberg
Most people eat too few
vegetables daily, usually between 2-3 servings. Ideally, this amount
should be increased to as much as 10 servings a day or at least half
the volume of food intake. Keep in mind that a serving is probably
smaller than you might think (1 cup of raw vegetables, ½ cup of
cooked vegetables). Organic produce would be my first choice.
From a scientific viewpoint,
there are several reasons why vegetables are amazing foods for the
When you substitute vegetables
for other foods like those containing high amounts of fat and sugar,
you reduce the number of calories per bite. They also contain high
amounts of fiber, which can lead to feelings of fullness. As a
result, eating vegetables may displace some other foods in the diet,
which are not heart-healthy.
Select vegetables, especially
leafy greens, contain various levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fats
(see section on fats below).
Vegetables are rich sources of
vitamins, minerals and antioxidants such as carotenoids
(beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene), vitamin C, folate, iron,
potassium, calcium and vitamin K. These nutrients assist in the
proper functioning of the heart and circulatory system.
Vegetables contain appreciable
amounts of soluble fiber, which bind cholesterol in the intestine
and remove it from the body. Additionally, some of them may contain
substances called phytosterols, which compete with cholesterol for
absorption in the body.
Enhance the Quality of Your
No discussion of heart health
would be complete without touching upon the topic of dietary fat. In
the past decade, fats have received a bad reputation in the
nutrition community. However, it is being increasingly realized that
fat is not as bad as some once thought and that the type of
fat could be more important than the amount of fat you eat.
Saturated fats (e.g., fat from
animal products like meat, eggs, dairy) should be consumed in
limited quantities since they have been shown to increase
cholesterol in the blood. Furthermore, they can clog arterial walls
and impair cellular function. Similarly, you might want to be
conscious of the amount of trans fat you are eating. Trans fat,
which is created in the process of making liquid oils more solid and
stable, is found in varying amounts in margarines (there are,
however, some margarines which are free of trans fat), baked goods,
fast foods and some prepared foods. It is widely believed that trans
fat is a greater risk for chronic disease than saturated fats since
it decreases the good cholesterol (HDL) in the body
while increasing the bad cholesterol (LDL). The Food
and Drug Administration may eventually require that trans fat levels
be listed on all food labels.
Unsaturated fats from the
omega-3 family are some of the healthiest oils to use for the heart.
Leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, flaxseed and hempseed oils and
fish contain various amounts of these fats. These good fats help to
regulate inflammation in the body. They can also reduce blood
thickness and stickiness, to help keep it moving, and lower blood
cholesterol and triglyceride levels. One point of caution is that
oils high in omega-3 fats should not be used for frying, as they are
highly prone to breaking down to produce toxic substances. Olive
oil, and other highly monounsaturated oils, are more stable under
cooking conditions than omega-3 fats.
Two tasty ways to get good fats
into your diet is almond milk and flaxseeds. One method of making
almond milk is to soak ½ cup of almonds in a pint of water overnight
and then blend the mixture in a blender with ½ teaspoon vanilla for
two minutes. The resulting almond milk can be stored in the
refrigerator for two to three days maximum. Flaxseeds can be ground
before you’re ready to eat them. You can add them to salads,
vegetables, or cereal. Flaxseed oil can be used to make dressings.
How to eat
There are some basic principles
to keep in mind when preparing a meal and when eating for yourself
and your heart:
Be sure that all food is
prepared with gratitude and love. Doing so will enhance the power
and sacredness of the eating process and your connection with all of
Chewing your food at least 25
times is essential for assisting in the digestion and absorption of
nutrients. It also helps to ‘be’ in the experience of eating by
savoring juices, textures and tastes.
Avoid eating when you are under
stress and relax before and during eating. Stress constricts blood
vessels and prevents the blood from reaching the digestive organs.
Avoid consuming excess
quantities of food as this can overload the digestive process and
lead to symptoms like “heart” burn. Also, it is best to avoid eating
too many different foods in one meal.
Try not to eat before bedtime as
to allow time for the digestive system to rest.
Ph.D., is an Holistic Nutrition Scientist who can be reached at