6 Expert Tips on Rethinking Nutrition and Heart Health

06/01/2015 04:57 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2016

Have kids, they said. Along with all the vomit and tears they will bring you joy, hilarity and fierce amounts of love (true, true.) But nobody ever mentioned they might concoct a "potion" that sits fermenting in an overlooked thermos for five days. Oh and that it might detonate in the kitchen in the dead of night. Have you ever cleaned out your toaster with a cotton bud? I have. It's hard. Especially when you really should be in bed and your heart is still somewhere outside your chest cavity.

A few days previously I'd given the girls some random kitchen and craft ingredients to make their own potions -- magic medicine to cure their baby dolls. And so I let them mix away while I cleaned and tidied the kitchen (oh the irony.) Once they were finished they poured their concoctions into thermos flasks. Chloe's went into the fridge where I later retrieved it and washed it out. Belle's on the other hand, sat on the side, hidden behind a box of cereal. Unfortunately it turns out that the combination of flour, sugar, oats, finger paint and Bermuda's warm climate isn't a good one. I am not sure how to describe it really. Exploding porridge perhaps? As loud as a gunshot. Or a small bomb. Not very relaxing as it turns out.

The next morning, after my brush with cardiac arrest, I whipped up a heart healthy smoothie. It got the ball rolling so I pulled together some healthy heart tips for you. The last one, "don't sweat the small stuff" couldn't be more important. Even if the "small stuff" is all over your kitchen cabinets and dripping off the ceiling.

When it comes to nutrition and heart health it would be easy to give you the same old same old: eat more fruit and vegetables, lots of wholegrains and include oily fish. But the truth is that while many of the traditional guidelines are still valid, the tables have turned a bit recently. It's become obvious that the "low-fat" monopoly of the last few decades just isn't working. Here's why, and what to focus on now.


1. Start thinking about sugar
Isn't heart health all about fat and cholesterol? Not really. The low-fat diet philosophy pushed so heavily through government guidelines over the last 40 years hasn't really got us anywhere. Deaths from heart disease top the charts in the United States and the number of people living with chronic, debilitating and expensive symptoms is staggering. Where did we go wrong? Firstly, by branding all fats as bad fats and secondly, by underestimating the role of processed food -- especially refined sugars. The reality is that good fats (especially the Omega 3s) help to nurture heart health (e.g. by reducing blood pressure.) Keep the added sugars in your diet as low as possible. Know that 4g "sugars" is approximately one teaspoon. If you are looking at a label, 2g (half a teaspoon) is a little and 10g (2.5tsps) starts to be a lot.

2. Reduce inflammation
In Nutritional Therapy, sugar and processed fats are viewed as "inflammatory." Although the ability to trigger inflammation in the body is essential (to prevent the spread of infection for example), it's bad news if it occurs chronically. Recent studies suggest that inflammation in the arteries is a major cause of heart disease. We need to focus less on total cholesterol intake (dietary cholesterol does not necessarily determine blood levels of cholesterol) and more on ditching the bad trans/hydrogenated fats in fried and heavily processed foods. Fruit and vegetables are rich in anti-inflammatory antioxidants so pack them in to your diet. Good fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado and oily fish are also considered anti-inflammatory.

3. Eat better quality animal products
You are what you eat, but you are what you eat eats, too. Cholesterol is largely made in the liver, so anything that comes from something that had a liver (whether it is a cow or a shrimp) contains cholesterol. But this doesn't mean you shouldn't eat it. There's increasing evidence to suggest that the issue lies in the factory farming practices that bring the food to our table. To me, eating unhealthy, unfit animals simply doesn't make sense. Instead, choose smaller portions of organic (and preferably grass-fed) meat and poultry. Pick organic eggs and dairy, too. Make the organic option cheaper by diluting dishes with beans and plenty of green vegetables.

4. Don't be fooled by labels
So your chips are cholesterol free? So they should be. It doesn't mean they are heart healthy! Food manufacturers are using healthy buzz-words to try and convince you to buy their products. Potato chips are usually cooked in vegetable oil, so given that dietary cholesterol is found in animal products, they shouldn't contain any anyway. You are just being hoodwinked into thinking they are healthy.

5. Stay hydrated
Water matters and it matters a lot. The primary cause of fatigue (and that mid-afternoon slump that fuels our caffeine and sugar addition) is dehydration. And consider this too: Loma Linda University in the U.S. studied dehydration and the risk of heart attack and stroke in 20,297 people. They found that compared to people who drank only 2 glasses of water a day, those who drank at least 5 cut their risk by between 41% and 54%. How's that for motivation?

6. Don't sweat the small stuff
The only "small stuff" you need to worry about are those incomprehensible ingredients on your food labels. It's very easy to preach "don't stress" and I know it's much harder to do it in practice, but we do have to recognize the connection between our emotional and physical health. Try and take a step back from your life and work on the four D's: Download (write everything down), Ditch (what really doesn't matter), Delegate (what you can) and Deal (with the things you absolutely have to.)

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