Get to the heart of the matter this Valentine’s Day with healthy eating


DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA FILE PHOTO Pottstown High School culinary students compete in the Grumpy’s Chopped Challenge preparing a variety of heart healthy sandwiches and desserts.

By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury

This weekend couples and families will celebrate Valentine’s Day, a holiday dedicated to celebrating the heart. The love day is also a great opportunity to put the focus on your actual heart.

heart (1)

AP Photo/Graphic

February is American Heart Month. Cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure are the number one killer of Americans. People can show some love to their heart by maintaining a nutritious and healthy diet.

Every few years, a new set of dietary guidelines are released to help direct people to choosing healthier eating options but they’re not always easy to understand. Cierra Robbins, registered dietitian for ShopRite in Hatfield, shared some tips on what the guidelines recommend and how to incorporate them in your daily schedules. Answers have been edited for clarity.

Q: Why do we have dietary guidelines and what do they mean for our everyday lives?

A: The dietary guidelines come out every five years. They’re based on the latest research and heavily on what trends researchers are seeing in the nutrition field. They’re also based on what consumers, shoppers and really what our culture is kind of focused on at the time. The goal of the committees that actually develop these guidelines is to develop recommendations that are scientifically based. In general, then it’s the dietitian’s job to give the public those general bullet point guidelines that impact their everyday life and their everyday shopping trip.

Q: Why do the current guidelines focus so much on a healthy eating pattern for an entire lifetime?

A: Really in terms of weight loss, I think a lot of times we’re looking for a quick fix and going on this diet … I think we kind of lose focus of our nutrition needs. Essentially, what I think that point is trying to get at is keep a pattern that you can sustain for your lifetime. Also keep in mind to enjoy our food. It’s something that’s so ingrained into our enjoyment and our satisfaction and our relationships with other people. What this is really trying to focus on is be realistic for your life.

Q: With the increase of diabetes diagnoses, what do the guidelines say about sugar intake?


Displayed are a box of unsalted butter and light brown sugar. The dietary guidelines encourage people to limit their calories from added sodium, fat and sugar.

A: Sugar is kind of like the number one enemy right now. We have food trends; a couple years ago it was fat. Everyone hated fat. Now we’re seeing a lot of focus on sugar — I really do like that switch… The important thing to remember is we’re talking about added sugar. We’re not talking about sugars naturally found in food. You want to keep it to no more than 10 percent of your total daily calories. That equates to about 50 grams of added sugar per day and then, to put that into even more perspective — a can of soda is about 40 grams of sugar. Also think about your baked goods, think about your breakfast foods, and think about what you’re having at lunchtime, what you’re snacking on or having for dessert. Those foods often have added sugar as well.

Q: What’s the difference between good fats and bad fats?


Olive oil has healthy, good fats that help lower blood cholesterol levels.

A: When we’re talking about fat, it’s really broken down into several different categories. What I like to do to make it very simple is talk about everyday fats versus sometimes fat. So with everyday fat, those are going to be the ones that will help our bodies to function at their best. They’re going to actually help with cholesterol … Those are going to be the fats found in vegetable oils like olive oil, canola oil or grape seed oil. They’re also going to be found in avocados, in salmon, black seeds and chia seeds. Now when we go into our sometimes fat, those are the ones that we want to have a moderate amount of. Foods like that they are usually going to be a fried item or things we’re going to get from animal sources. Also a lot of your convenience food is going to have some of those added types of fats to them.

Q: What do the dietary guidelines say about cholesterol?


Eggs are a great protein source. Even with the cholesterol, they can be included in a heart healthy diet along with regular exercise.

A: A lot of what we’re actually finding is that limits on dietary cholesterol, meaning cholesterol that you find in food, it really doesn’t impact your blood cholesterol near as much as we originally thought. If we can increase exercise, physical activity and we can promote weight control; we really see a drop and improvement with blood cholesterol levels over removing cholesterol rich foods from the diet.

Q: High sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure and other diseases so what do the guidelines say about sodium?

A: When we look at sodium, we kind of automatically think of salt. So when we’re saying people should be limiting foods that have added sodium, what we’re talking about usually ends up coming down to those convenience items. So to give you a couple of examples: sauces, dips, and dressings. It’s a really great idea to flip over that package and check that label. What I like to tell people is to look at that percentage because that percentage tells us what we need to know. Five percent is considered low and 20 percent is going to be considered high. The salt shaker typically is not where we see people getting their added sodium from.

Q: What kinds of meat and protein sources are recommended in the dietary guidelines?


Lean turkey and chicken selections are great heart healthy meat choices. When buying meat, buy items with less fat.

A: I think people when they’re trying to be healthier gravitate toward chicken and turkey breasts. The thing to keep in mind with chicken and turkey is they also do have dark parts to the bird … Just because you’re eating chicken doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting less fat. It depends on the cut and what type. With red meat, I really like to tell people to look at that piece of meat for that marbling you see and those white fatty streaks. The less of that you see obviously the less fat there’s going to be in that cut of meat. Seafood has wonderful omega 3 fatty acids in them which are so beneficial for our health and heart health.

You can get a ton of great protein from other sources. Beans are a really great example. Beans provide fiber and protein. Those are both really great things to include in a heart healthy diet. Another item would be nuts and seeds. Then there are also a lot of dairy products that offer protein as well such as low-fat cheese, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and then of course just milk has protein.

Q: What do the guidelines say about caffeine and coffee?

A: The new guidelines say three to five 8 ounce cups of a coffee a day and that equates to about 400 milligrams of caffeine. Some people drink tea … or other different types of caffeinated beverages. Of course that would be something you want to check with your doctor. Some people do have caffeine limitations for health reasons.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add about nutrition or the guidelines?

A: The dietitians that work for ShopRite offer three nutrition consultations. We can actually sit down with that person one on one and help them with their diabetes, losing weight or maybe a food allergy. We also do free store tours as well … I think when you read these guidelines it can be kind of overwhelming and kind of hard to figure out how you’re going to implement them into your life … In terms of applying these guidelines to your everyday life, I like to tell people to focus on one guideline … What I tell my clients is that babies don’t just get up and run one day. They get up and they fall then they get up again and they fall …. It’s not huge massive leaps right away.

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