What is fish’s role in protecting your heart?
Fish is really becoming a superstar so to speak when it comes to heart health primarily because it’s such a great source of the omega-3 fatty acids. These omega-3 fatty acids do a number of things in your body. One reason is they seem to have a slight blood thinning effect. So a lot of people who are at risk of heart disease are often on these blood thinners. The omega-3 fatty acids actually help to do the same thing to enough of an extent that people who are on blood thinners, it could be recommended to not consume high levels of fish oils because they need to then adjust their medications. So, these omega-3 fatty acids are fairly powerful things, and people need to watch the dosage that they take if, in fact, they start taking it as a supplement. But in the fish itself, the higher-fat fishes like salmon, sardines and anchovies are really high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Is thinning the blood a benefit for the heart?
Well, it’s probably a combination of this blood-thinning effect that I mentioned and also the fact that one of those omega 3 fatty acids is converted to a hormone-like compound that is a precursor for all of these eicosanoids. These eicosanoids play a role in the whole inflammatory process in the body kind of like the C-reactive protein. Having plenty of the omega-3 fatty acids in the right balance with what we will call the omega-6 fatty acids helps moderate or modulate that inflammatory activity which probably benefits the heart.
How much fish should one try to consume?
The amount of fish that it takes to meet those fatty acid needs is really a typical serving of salmon once a week or a can of Sardines, not a whole lot more than that.
How does meat fit into a heart-healthy diet?
You might notice I suggest red meat. To yourself you’re saying, “Red meat and heart health, give me a break.” Well, where this is actually coming from is if you look at the nutrient composition of good lean red meat, there is a lot of really good nutrients in there. Among them are a good source of well-absorbed iron, zinc, and other trace minerals. It’s also a good source of a number of the B vitamins that we know are important for heart health, including vitamin B12, which is an especially good source. Also, some people may wonder why I mentioned iron because there’s a lot of concern in people these days for getting too much iron. There have been some proposals that accumulation of iron in the body can increase your risk of heart disease. This is not a widely accepted theory. There may be some fact to it for people who have hemochromatosis, which is the gene that accumulates too much iron. But in most of us who don’t have that, iron may actually provide some benefits. So if you’ve gotten too low in iron, then that red meat becomes a heart-healthy food for sure. There is a compound called carnitine, which is synthesized in your heart and is important for heart function partly because the heart uses carnitine as a way of facilitating its use of fatty acids for fuel. The heart is actually fueled primarily by fat, which a lot of people are surprised to hear sometimes. The reason I mention this in conjunction with iron is because iron is necessary as a co-factor for the synthesis of the carnitine. So if you’re too low in iron, you may be too low in carnitine. There was a recent study done on children that showed iron-deficient children had low levels of carnitine. So, I’m speculating that this may be a problem in adults as well if their iron levels get too low. We’re starting to see a backlash thing where people got the message don’t eat too much meat and maybe they’ve gone too far, cut out too much Iron, have become iron deficient, and they have a whole new set of problems.
So how often should you eat red meat?
A couple of times a week probably would get you the iron you need if you have good iron status to start with. If your iron status is low, it could be maybe more like two or three times a week or if somebody is iron deficient, then he really should be on supplements of iron.
Do you see health risks as a consequence of low-carb dieters cutting out grains?
That’s an interesting point about the study that looked at the association between grains and C-reactive protein and the concept that that was the only thing that was associated with a reduced level of C-reactive protein. The study really raises some question about the long-term health effects of a low-carb diet since grains are, of course, one of the major sources of carbohydrates. We’re cutting out whatever that is in grains that helps reduce C-reactive protein levels.
How does dairy fit in with heart health?
A lot of times people don’t associate the dairy group or the milk group with heart health. However, there is definitely some benefits to including that as part of your overall food intake. We know calcium intake helps reduce blood pressure, so one of the things that it’s really good for is making sure you get enough calcium. There are other ways to get calcium, but milk is one of the easiest ways to get it. It is interesting too because there was a study done on blacks in New York City where they actually had them consume two eight-ounce cups of yogurt a day for a year to see if it would reduce their blood pressure. They found it did reduce their blood pressure, but the big surprise was that it also reduced their body weight. They didn’t change their diet in any way, they just ate two cups of yogurt every day. So since that study, a number of people have been looking at the relationship between calcium intake and body-fat levels. We’re finding that adequate calcium intake seems to help release fat from the fat cell and may play a subtle but important role in maintaining normal levels of body fat.
Since being overweight is also a risk factor for heart disease, the calcium kind of has double duty there, because it’s reducing the risk of high blood pressure and also helping people maintain lower body fat levels. The other thing with milk that is not real clear at this point in time is that it’s also thought that it may be something in addition to the calcium in milk that helps with the weight control. Apparently, some of the protein components also help. It’s very high in what’s called the branch chain amino acids. Those are thought to also possibly play a role in helping reduce body fat levels.
Source: Ivanhoe Newswire