Eating Well

Graduates of the cardiac rehab program have been educated on dietary habits that promote good health overall in addition to cardiovascular health. This type of education was provided during the rehab program. To assist in staying on track with healthy eating this section of the website reviews dietary strategies and also is a library for recipes found by, or created by the alumni group or available from public websites.

icon-newAdded Sugar Sources – What are the primary sources to watch out for. This information was sourced from the Harvard Medical School library.

Added sugar: Where is it hiding?

Note: Courtesy of Harvard Medical School

Added sugar is everywhere in the food supply. It’s so ubiquitous that you might find some packaged and processed foods unappetizing without it.

Evolution has hard-wired our palates to prefer sweet-tasting foods to obtain quick energy and to avoid bitter-tasting poisons. But in America today, our diet has reinforced and strengthened that preference beginning in early childhood. Americans take in an average of more than 17 teaspoons of sugar (about 290 calories) a day from added sugars, often in sweetened beverages, far more than recommended.

Sugar is added to countless food products, including breads, condiments, dairy-based foods, nut butters, salad dressings, and sauces. The sugar is added not just to impart sweetness. It’s also used to extend shelf life and adjust attributes like the texture, body, color, and browning capability of food.

To start reducing added sugar in your diet, first it helps to know where it comes from. Here are the basics.

Where’s the sugar?

Unless you consume only whole, unprocessed foods, you are bound to have added sugars in your daily diet. Sugar-sweetened beverages lead the pack, but many other foods also contain added sugar—sometimes a substantial amount in a typical portion.

Sugar-sweetened beverages.

Sugar-sweetened beverages contribute about half of the total added sugar in the U.S. food supply. The source of the sweetness in most products is high-fructose corn syrup. These sugary drinks include any of the following:

  • regular soda
  • juice drinks, like fruit punch and juice “cocktails” (but not whole fruit and vegetable juices)
  • energy drinks
  • sports drinks
  • sweet tea
  • sweetened coffee drinks
  • sweetened water
  • any other beverages with sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup added to enhance sweetness.

It’s important not to confuse sugar-sweetened juice drinks with whole fruit juices. Processed beverages like fruit punch or cranberry juice cocktail contain a fair amount of added sugar—in the case of cranberry juice cocktail, the sugar is added to counter the naturally sour taste of cranberries. This is an example of a fruit drink that is also a sugar-sweetened beverage, and therefore a source of added sugar. Whole (100% fruit) juices contain only the sugars in the juice extracted from the fruit or vegetable. However, it’s a good idea to limit even whole juices in your diet.

Sugar-sweetened drinks can pump a large amount of added sugar into your body, and quickly. These beverages are not as filling as sweet whole foods like fruit, so it’s easier to consume a lot of them. On average, Americans get more than 200 calories a day from sugary drinks, about four times what we consumed in 1965.

Sweets and desserts.

Brownies, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, ice cream, pastries, pies, puddings, and sweet rolls are just some of the processed foods widely understood to contain substantial amounts of added sugar.

Honey and syrups.

Sugars naturally present in honey and syrups, including maple syrup, are also considered added sugars. Although honey and syrup are sold as freestanding products, you don’t eat them by themselves. They are squirted into hot drinks, drizzled on pancakes and waffles, or added during baking or making sweets.

Condiments.

Condiments are defined as spices, sauces, or other preparations that you add to food to enhance its flavor. Tomato ketchup, relish, barbecue sauce, salad dressings, and salsa are condiments, and they can contain considerable amounts of sugar per serving.

Prepared foods.

A vast variety of prepared foods contain additional sweeteners. Breakfast cereals contain added sugar, but so do ready-to-eat meals, breads, soups, tomato sauces, snacks, and cured meats.

Among the many processed and prepared foods with added sugar are sugar-sweetened yogurts. Plain unsweetened yogurt contains naturally occurring milk sugars, but added sugar can double or triple the total amount of sugar.

New nutrition labels in the works will make it easier to know how much of the total is added sugar as opposed to natural milk sugars.

Are natural sugar alternatives healthier?

Many people are seeking out what they perceive to be healthier alternatives to refined (granulated) white sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. They may have heard that plant-based natural or organic sweeteners such as agave syrup (sometimes called nectar) or coconut sugar are less likely to trigger spikes in blood sugar. Less-processed “raw” sugars, maple syrup, or honey also may be perceived as better options simply because they are more “natural” than highly refined table sugar.

Popular sugar alternatives do come from things in nature, such as tree sap or beehives. But the sugar in them is the same as what you’ll find in a bag of “unnatural,” refined white or confectioner’s sugar. The same goes for sugars labeled “organic” or “raw.” Though less-processed sugars may contain trace elements and minerals that refined white sugar lacks, they still end up as glucose (blood sugar) after the body breaks them down.

In the case of agave syrup, there is a difference in the way the body processes it compared with table sugar. Agave syrup is mostly fructose, which does not directly raise blood sugar (glucose) levels. Instead, the fructose goes to the liver to be converted to glucose.On the other hand, consuming excess amounts of fructose can cause the liver to start making fat in the form of triglycerides. Chronically high triglycerides raise the risk for diabetes and heart disease.In the end, the key message is “the dose makes the poison.” Whatever type of sugar you use to sweeten your tea or oatmeal, or to cook with, the important thing is to limit the total amount of added sugar in your diet.

icon-newThe DASH Diet to lower high blood pressure

There has been considerable research on how blood pressure can be modified through diet and control of sodium intake. The link below will take you to the Heart & Stroke Society pages that discuss the research and provide nutritional guidelines.

The Dash Diet

Philosophically speaking we all probably agree that avoiding highly processed foods, whether they be packaged or from fast food restaurants, is better for our health. Where we may differ in our opinions is on the role of animal based foods in our diet. There is considerable evidence that suggests a whole foods, plant based diet can help us to avoid a variety of diseases. To get a rich understanding of this you may choose to view “Forks over Knives” on Netflix or you can order a download or DVD. The link below will take you to a trailer about the film.

Forks over Knives – Movie Trailer

The basic message delivered is that eating more plant based whole foods and less meat and dairy products will improve your health. How far you choose to go in avoiding meat and dairy products is a personal choice. One dietary strategy the Mediterranean Diet is discussed below. This is followed by the fully Vegan option found at the Forks over Knives website.

The Mediterranean Diet

Cardiac research has shown that populations who follow the Mediterranean Diet appear to live longer healthier lives with less incidence of cardiovascular disease. As always consult your healthcare team for specific advice but this diet may be a good option. You can view details of this diet as presented by the renowned Mayo Clinic by clicking the Mediterranean Diet link above. Below is a link to the pyramid that summarizes the diet.

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

Here are 21 meals along with a shopping list of ingredients for each of three weeks. These meals are based on the Mediterranean Diet. When you arrive at the page you need to click on Download the tool Kit

The Plant Based Whole Foods Diet

The Forks Over Knives whole-food, plant-based diet is centered on whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plants. It’s a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil.

We know that’s a mouthful! Rest assured, though, that you’ll be eating in a way that people have thrived on for thousands of years. We believe that you will find—as we do—that the diet and foods are very tasty and satisfying. Following are the food categories from which you’ll eat, along with a few examples from each. These include the ingredients you’ll be using to make familiar dishes, such as pizza, mashed potatoes, lasagna, and burritos:

  • Fruit: mangoes, bananas, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, cherries, etc.
  • Vegetables: lettuce, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, carrots, etc.
  • Tubers and starchy vegetables: potatoes, yams, yucca, winter squash, corn, green peas, etc.
  • Whole grains: millet, quinoa, barley, rice, whole wheat, oats, etc.
  • Legumes: kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, lima beans, cannellini beans, black beans, etc.

The link below takes you to the website “Forks over Knives”. At the website you will find more details on the diet as well as recipes and even a weekly meal planner. Warning they do charge for the meal plans but is a minimal amount and some people will see it as enormous value.

Forks over Knives – Plant Based Whole Foods Diet

Consult a Dietitian

What ever dietary strategy you choose you may wish to seek professional health advice from a dietitian. Fortunately that help is available through Eat Right Ontario. Dietician resources are provided by Eat Right Ontario. You can call them or e-mail them using the link below;

Eat Right Ontario – Dietitian Consultation