bottle-of-extra-virgin-olive-oil.jpgDr. Toby Cosgrove, the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, and a heart surgeon for over thirty years, recently sparked a firestorm of controversy when he told a New York Times reporter that if it were up to him, if there weren’t legal issues, he would not only stop hiring smokers. (The Cleveland Clinic has already done this.) He would also stop hiring obese people.

Though it outraged some people, it has brought the subject to the front page of every newspaper in America, and stirred some much needed discussion and debate.  I must say, this man is brilliant!  For the first time in recent memory, doctors, patients, health insurers, and the government are talking about finding solutions to America’s ‘big, fat problem.’  Click on this link,,  and you will find a map of the United States that shows you just how big the obesity epidemic is- it’s an awesome, if alarming, tool that very graphically illustrates that we need to stop this insanity now!  Though data is incomplete, in 1985 most states had an obesity rate below 10% of the general population. By the turn of the century, the rate in 21 states was over 20%, and today Colorado is the only state with a rate below 20%.  More alarming still is the fact that six states now exceed a 30% rate of obesity!

Following are some tips for a healthy heart diet that will assist you in getting your weight into a healthy range while also protecting your heart from damage in the meanwhile:

1. Keep your overall consumption of fat to between 25 percent and 35 percent, your saturated fat intake below 7 percent and trans fats to no more than 1 percent of your total calories. Saturated fat and trans fats both cause your body to produce more cholesterol. (The less you eat of chemically-altered, ‘not real foods’ trans fats, the better for your body. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests trans fats may cause all manner of diseases.)

379797_lazy_lunch.jpg2. You should also aim for a limit of 300 mg. per day of cholesterol from the food that you consume. If you have high blood cholesterol levels  in the bad LDL cholesterol, or take cholesterol lowering medication, your limit should be around 200 mg. or less each day.

3. 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber each day is your goal.  Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are the preferred sources for your fiber.

4. Fight high blood pressure and opt for overall cardiovascular health by limiting sodium to 2,300 mg or less per day.  African Americans, middle-aged and older adults, and those who already suffer from high blood pressure should use even less, not more than 1,500 mg a day. Alcohol consumption should be moderated. (Shoot for two drinks or less a day for men, one for women.)

5. Healthy heart diets also mean you are eating a diet chock full of fruits and vegetables,  whole grains, lots of fiber, very lean cuts of red meat, poultry and fish at least twice a week, and skim or 1% milk and low fat cheese.

6. A healthy heart dinner might consist of a main dish with pasta, rice, beans, or vegetables as the main ingredient, or with a very limited amount of meat. In some dishes, a low amount of meat won’t even be noticeable.

7. Try to severely limit or avoid entirely chemicals in your food like caffeine, MSG, and other food additives.

8. Choose fresh over frozen, frozen over canned when at all possible.  Fresh, whole, unprocessed foods are best for our hearts.

Though undoubtedly this is a lot to remember, all of it is very important as you eat a healthy heart diet.  If you remember nothing else at all, remember this: stay far away from saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Read the food labels as you shop, and choose your good health over convenience, and do your small part to slim down America (the world)!

…hope that’s of some use,

Ray Baker