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Heart Disease and a Low-Glycemic Diet

Eating a low-glycemic diet can help in the fight against heart disease. Heart disease takes many different forms, all of which affect the heart in different ways. The one common thread? If serious enough, any form of heart disease can interfere with your heart's life-sustaining pumping.

One example of how the low-glycemic approach can help heart health relates to triglycerides. Many foods that are high in sugar are high-glycemic. Too many of these foods (and their effect on your body's blood sugar and insulin functioning) can elevate triglyceride levels, posing increased risk on the heart.

The research has been a bit conflicting, but an average of the responses from 37 studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that following a low-glycemic diet has a consistent benefit for heart health.

Specifically, findings demonstrate that eating a low-glycemic diet increases HDL (good) cholesterol and lowers triglycerides. This result may be due to the decreased intake of most sugary foods or the increased intake of high-fiber foods — either way, it's a good thing.

Healthy fats and fiber are still a big part of the overall healthy heart picture. Don't forget about them. Instead, weave information about a low-glycemic lifestyle into what you already know about good nutrition and heart health.

If you have risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol (or low HDLs) or high triglycerides and want to try a low-glycemic diet to help decrease these risk factors, here are a few tips:

  • Choose low-glycemic carbohydrates in the appropriate portion sizes for meals and snacks.

  • Eat high-nutrient, low-glycemic foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

  • Avoid trans fats and limit your intake of saturated fats (think high-fat cuts of meat and full-fat dairy products).

  • Bulk up your fiber intake with a goal of eating 25 to 35 grams per day. Not sure how much that is? Well, consider that a great whole-grain bread has an average of 3 to 4 grams of fiber in each slice.

  • Increase your fruit and vegetable servings to five to nine servings per day.

  • Eat plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds. Note: Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and halibut are better sources of omega-3s than plant-based sources.

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