Personalizing your Heart Health Roadmap with Integrative Registered Dietitian, Mary Purdy, MS, RDN
Integrative Registered Dietitian Mary Purdy works at Arivale as a Coach and Clinical Education Lead providing nutrition and lifestyle counseling to clients using personalized genetic data and functional labs. This American Heart Month, we sit down with Purdy to discuss the latest in wellness and nutrition trends to better understand the key to a healthy heart.
FLIK Hospitality: Mary, when we talk about heart health, we hear a lot about the Mediterranean Diet. Is the Mediterranean Diet still the Gold Standard for a healthy heart?
Mary: It’s definitely one of the most-studied diets and has many heart healthy components: high in fiber and unsaturated fats, low in saturated fat. Nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices help reduce inflammation, a hallmark of cardiovascular disease, and also help support blood pressure with added potassium and magnesium.
F: How much of what you do in the kitchen versus what you do in the gym impacts heart health?
M: I think it’s a combo of both. Exercise is one of the key ways to improve your HDL cholesterol and blood sugar. However, if you exercise and don’t eat well, many of those heart health markers aren’t going to improve. An unhealthy diet almost always shows up somewhere in the lab work.
F: Nutrition is so confusing. I feel like there are mixed messages all over social media and there’s constantly new research in the news. What about these current nutrition topics:
- F: I’ve read that fat is good for you! Should I really be upping my fat intake?
M: This may be very individual. Certain fats are good for you. However, genes play a role and high amounts of fat – even good fats – for some people can contribute to weight gain or increase the risk of diabetes.
- F: So if I’m at a normal weight with normal labs, I eat as much bacon as I want?
M: The type of fat definitely still matters. Fats from animal products tend to be associated with poorer heart health. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy bacon periodically, but how about you use it as a flavor instead of as a diet mainstay? Sauté dark leafy greens with just a hint of bacon.
- F: Should I be cooking everything in coconut oil? Where do butter and margarine stand?
M: I’m not against using coconut oil, but it should be incorporated into your overall intake of saturated fats. The American Heart Association recommends no more than six percent of your calories come from saturated fat, which translates to 13 grams for someone eating 2,000 calories per day. A single tablespoon of coconut oil already has more than this – 14 grams.
- F: What about cholesterol – Is the cholesterol in food the same as the cholesterol in my blood? How many eggs should I eat per week?
M: An age old question! You know the saying, you are what you eat? This also applies to hens. So I recommend eating eggs from pasture-raised hens, which have a more heart-healthy nutrient profile than eggs from farm-raised hens.
- F: Have you heard of lipoprotein(a)? Is there anything I can do with my diet to keep my level within a healthy range?
M: I have heard of lipoprotein(a), but I haven’t worked with it much. I believe more clinical trials are needed to prove that lowering lipoprotein(a) prevents heart disease or cardiac events.
F: Is there any other new and groundbreaking research on nutrition and heart health that we should put into practice right now?
M: Refined carbohydrate and sugar intake is not always associated with heart health, but I do think it’s important to factor these nutrients into the equation. A lot of research shows that refined carbs and sugar drive inflammation, increase LDL cholesterol, and promote insulin resistance. Keep in mind that these foods aren’t always dessert items – beware of overeating other floury foods like crackers, muffins, bread, and pasta.
F: What are the most important changes I can make in my diet today to have a positive impact on my heart health?
- Eat more plant-based foods, such as beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and tofu.
- Focus on healthy fats: olives and olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.
- Eat a brightly colored variety of veggies, fruits, herbs, and spices, which contain anti-inflammatory compounds.
- Reduce refined carbohydrates and simple sugars, including excessive amounts of alcohol.
F: Thank you so much for chatting with us. If there’s one key takeaway, what should we be thinking about as it relates to wellness and nutrition?
M: It is absolutely essential that we not apply general nutrition information to the entire population. Asking for personalized nutrition recommendations based on your own lab work, medical issues, lifestyle habits, and genetic predisposition is the only way to ensure you’re getting the best nutrition advice possible.
Hear more from Mary on her podcast and web series, “Mary’s Nutrition Show,” or pick up her latest book: “Serving the Broccoli Gods.”
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