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Making Healthy Eating Delicious

Remember the days when being on the receiving end of heart-healthy eating advice was about as much fun as a root canal? Say au revoir to those days, thanks to a new approach to heart health. A strict, low-fat dietary strategy for heart disease prevention is old news. Today’s emphasis is on a vibrant, flavorful diet that powers up on healthy fats, seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, herbs, spices, and moderate alcohol consumption. There’s nothing frightful about that portrait of a diet. Maybe it’s time to take a look at the way you’re doling out heart-health advice and determine whether it needs a more palatable update.

“Our job is to make healthy food taste good. People can learn to prepare healthy food in a delicious way. I hope dietitians are still not simply doing the ‘foods to avoid’ list. We should be talking about healthy food being really delicious and about how to prepare and enjoy these foods. Taste is No. 1. It wins out over nutrition every day,” says Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RD, a nutrition consultant, a speaker, and the coauthor of The Moms’ Guide to Meal Makeovers: Improving the Way Your Family Eats, One Meal at a Time!

Thankfully, many nutrition professionals are helping dispel the notion that a heart-healthy diet is a grim voyage into a buffet of broiled white fish fillets and flavorless steamed vegetables. There’s a whole world of healthy eating out there that celebrates flavor as much as it does nutrition. Celebrity chefs are doing a great job of promoting lighter, more healthful cuisine that honors seasonal produce, seafood, whole grains, herbs, spices, and olive oil. And dietitians are right there beside them, promoting the brighter side of heart-healthy eating. From those working in the media and food industry to those counseling patients in clinics and corporate wellness programs, dietitians’ focus is on delicious food that happens to be healthy.

“There are many dietitians working hard to get the message out that making better, heart-healthy food choices can be delicious,” says Brenda Ponichtera, RD, author of Quick & Healthy Recipes and Ideas: For People Who Say They Don’t Have Time to Cook Healthy Meals. “We are stressing good fats today, such as nuts, avocados, olive oil, and canola oil. It is a very individual matter because it depends on their weight, activity, and how many calories they can handle.”

A Mediterranean Approach to Heart Health
The traditional Mediterranean diet, with its emphasis on vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains, fish, nuts, seeds, monounsaturated fats, and moderate alcohol consumption and its low meat, dairy, and saturated fat intake, has made a tasty impression on the current rationale for heart-healthy eating. This cultural culinary style yields flavorful foods that offer increased satiety, primarily due to the use of monounsaturated fats such as olive oil and high fiber intake through its emphasis on plant foods. The scientific support for this lifestyle began more than 50 years ago, when Ancel Keys, PhD, published results confirming a relationship between the dietary pattern in the Mediterranean and coronary risk factors. Since then, the research supporting eating a la Mediterranean has been flowing in.

“Cardiovascular disease [CVD] is still the leading cause of death worldwide,” said Emilio Rios, MD, PhD, head of the Lipid Clinic at the University of Barcelona, at Oldways’ Mediterranean Diet Conference in Boston in November 2008. “The risk for CVD in the Mediterranean countries was lower compared with Anglo-Saxon countries. It could have been genetic factors, but lifestyle factors more likely explained the lower CVD risk factor. In the Mediterranean countries, the people were outdoors more often and were more physically active. The concept of the Mediterranean diet and lower CVD risk led to the Seven Countries Study, started by Ancel Keys.”

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