Kearney Hy-Vee Dietitian Kaiti George is passionate about heart health.
As a health professional who has studied the effects of poor food choices on the body’s most important muscle, Kaiti loves to share how anyone can make simple changes to live healthier.
Heart disease is the number one killer of women each year, Kaiti said.
“Heart healthy should be at the top of everybody’s mind, but specifically if you have a family history or high cholesterol,” she said.
For Kaiti, simple eating habits like adding chia seeds or ground flax seed to smoothies, eggs or oatmeal for breakfast gives her and her family, which includes 3-year-old twins, a great start to the day.
“I just get so passionate about heart health because it really truly is easy to do,” she said. “You don’t have to be a chef to cook heart healthy, just some very simple swaps and changes can make a difference.”
Kaiti has counseled hundreds of clients on healthy eating during her 15-year career as a dietician. She has worked for the past three years at Kearney’s Hy-Vee, where she meets with patients to help them make healthier food choices, gives free grocery store nutritional tours and organizes cooking classes for children and adults.
“We are here to help our customers live healthier and happier,” she said.
With February being national Hearth Health month, Kaiti shared her top 10 list of heart healthy foods.
No. 1 and No. 2 — Fruits & Vegetables
In her years of reviewing client food journals, Kaiti said the average person eats just one or two servings of fruits and vegetables daily. But, health professionals recommend eight or nine servings!
“It doesn’t matter what type of fruit or vegetables you choose, there’s so many heart health benefits to any of them,” she said.
No. 3 – Whole Grain Foods
Whole grain breads, pasta, cereal, brown rice and oats are excellent sources of dietary fiber whereas most refined grains (white bread or pasta) contain little fiber.
“Fiber from whole grains, as part of an overall healthy diet, may help improve blood cholesterol levels, and lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and type 2 diabetes,” Kaiti said. “Also, fiber can make you feel fuller longer, so you may eat fewer calories, which may help you reach or manage a healthy weight.”
No. 4 – Beans
“Any type of bean has great fiber and helps you feel fuller longer,” Kaiti said. “There’s just tons of way to prepare them and add them to dishes.”
She recommends chili beans, garbanzo beans and edamame (soybeans) as starters.
No. 5 – Fatty Fishes
“Your fatty fishes are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for heart health,” Kaiti said.
The most popular fatty fishes are salmon and tuna.
Omega-3 fatty acids curb inflammation in the blood vessels and the rest of the body and can slow plaque build-up, according to Web MD.
No. 6 – Nuts
“All nuts are going to be great for heart health, but a couple rise to the top and that’s almonds and walnuts,” Kaiti said. They have a little more soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol.
No. 7 – Liquid Oils
Kaiti recommends using oils such as canola, olive or sunflower oil during cooking instead of butter or coconut oil.
“Anything that is liquid at room temperature is also going to be essentially liquid inside your body,” Kaiti said. “It’s not going to be hardening.”
Butter or oils like coconut oil that are more solid at room temperature are also going to be solid inside your body.
“Coconut oil is really hot right now,” Kaiti said. “But the reality is that coconut oil is the second highest source of saturated fat among all the oils, secondary to palm oil. Coconut oil is hard. And if it’s hard at room temperature, it’s also going to be hard in your arteries, which is also going to be artery hardening and cause plaque.”
Coconut oil has 12 grams of saturated fat per serving, Kaiti said, which is about 60 percent of saturated fat needs for an entire day.
No. 8 – Flax Seeds and Chia Seeds
These seeds are high in Omega-3 and are easily combined into everyday recipes.
“As a health professional, I truly believe that either chia seed or flax seed should be a part of everyone’s diet because there’s that much goodness to them,” Kaiti said. “I make sure I have a serving of one or the other every day.”
She advises using ground flax seed to get the most health benefit, but chia seeds can be ground or whole based on personal preference.
No. 9 – Soy Products
Kaiti recommends 2-3 servings per day of soy, which may include soy nuts, soy milk, or soy protein powder.
“It (soy) has different properties in it that help lower your LDL cholesterol, which is your bad cholesterol and help raise your HDL, which is your good cholesterol,” she said.
No. 10 – Eggs
While the health benefits of eggs have been debated in the past, Kaiti said currently it is recommended by the American Heart Association to eat one or two a day.
Eggs are loaded with protein, vitamins and minerals and eaten in moderation can help keep a person healthy.
Two other foods that are often considered to be heart healthy are dark chocolate and red wine. Kaiti said these two foods are good for the heart under certain conditions. Dark chocolate has to be 70 percent cocoa to have heart health benefits. Wine must be consumed in moderation, no more than one 5-oz glass daily for women and two glasses for men.
“Because red wine is made with grapes, and grapes have a lot of antioxidant powers, it can help with heart health, too,” she said.
While Kaiti doesn’t like to focus on the “can’ts” and “don’ts” when it comes to heart health, she did recommend staying away from anything high in saturated fat: fatty steaks, butter, lard, processed foods and hotdogs.
“Those would be things you want to limit,” she said. “Not eliminate, just eat in moderation.”
Kaiti encouraged anyone looking for heart healthy recipes to visit www.hyvee.com/meal-solutions and select the weekly menus tab and click on Heart Healthy.
Two other sites she recommends for healthy recipes are: