Q&A with Registered Dietitian, Cara Rosenbloom

A Dietitian's Guide to Eating for a Healthy Heart

March 2023

This article is provided by Heart & Stroke.  

We all want to make healthy eating choices, but it can be challenging to sort out nutritional information sometimes. It’s definitely an important priority though, since up to 80% of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented through lifestyle choices, including healthy eating and active living.

We asked registered dietitian and award-winning cookbook author Cara Rosenbloom to give us some expert and easy-to-follow advice on how to make good nutrition choices.

Q: What should I eat to promote heart health?
CR: The two diets with the most research for heart disease prevention are the Mediterranean  and the DASH, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension. Both of these diets include lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish and lean proteins. They also mesh well with the same diet that’s described in Canada’s Food Guide Plate model: at every meal, put lots of fruits and vegetables on half the plate, put protein on one quarter, and whole grains on the remaining quarter. Both the Mediterranean and the DASH diet for heart health really emphasize fruits and vegetables for their vitamins, minerals and fibre, and they're also not high in sodium.

These diets also help people cut back on red meat and sweets. What that means in terms of the protein portion of your plate is that instead of having red meat every day, you cut back to once or twice a week—or even less. Red meat has more saturated fat than fish or poultry, and there's an association between higher intake of saturated fat and worse outcomes with heart disease risk. They also limit sweets to just a little bit a day. So instead of having a chocolate bar, a bag of gummy bears and/or a can of soda, it would be like a couple of squares of chocolate. Sugar is not eliminated, but there's an awareness that you need to cut back a little bit because consuming sugar in excess is linked to increased heart disease risk. 

Q: What type of oils should I use for cooking?
CR: Avocado oil and olive oil are the two that I recommend most often because they contain omega-9 or monounsaturated fat, and that has a neutral impact on heart health. It does not raise bad cholesterol levels or lower good cholesterol levels. Look for a good quality extra virgin olive oil with polyphenols, which are antioxidants that can protect heart health.

If you want to get more omega-3 fats, which is also a popular fat that's protective of heart health, use cold flax oil on your salad or on vegetables, or walnut oil and canola oil.

Q: Are there particular foods to reduce inflammation?
CR: Inflammation is an internal condition that causes cellular damage, and it can lead to heart problems and other health issues. The most anti-inflammatory foods are whole foods, which contain nutrients that help quell inflammation. These include fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, fatty fish (rich in omega-3 fats) and whole grains. High polyphenol olive oil is also considered to be anti-inflammatory.

Because we have busy lifestyles, not everything can be a whole food and we need to take shortcuts, which is totally fine. Some processed foods have been through minor processes to help bring them home from the grocery store in a more convenient way—for example, taking whole grain flour and making it into bread or taking fresh whole tuna and putting it in a can with a little bit of oil and salt. Those are very minor processes, and the foods are still considered to be anti-inflammatory.

Pro-inflammatory foods, or foods that negatively promote inflammation, include ultra-processed foods that are high in salt, sugar and saturated or trans-fat. Ultra-processed foods were once whole, but have been majorly processed by adding sugar, salt, fat, additives, preservatives, food colourings, or flavourings. These foods–think fast food, chips, ice cream, chocolate bars, etc.—should not form the bulk of our diet but can be enjoyed as occasional treats.

Q: Do I need to take a multivitamin or other supplements?
CR: That depends on your overall eating pattern. If you find that your hectic lifestyle means you're not eating well, or if you're intermittent fasting and there are days when you go without eating, then a multivitamin may be a good idea. But what’s most important is to take a supplement that your body actually needs. For example, if you know you have a nutrient deficiency—perhaps iron or calcium—you can take supplements to specifically address the deficiency.  That’s a better idea than arbitrarily taking a multivitamin which has about 15 different nutrients, some of which your body may not be deficient in.

A vitamin D supplement is a must-have for many Canadians, since deficiencies are common. Ask your doctor for bloodwork to figure out your deficiencies or consult with a dietitian for an assessment.

Q: What’s your favourite healthy meal to eat at home?
CR: My household meals include a variety of vegetables, grains, and several protein choices–usually one plant-based (such as tofu and beans) and one animal-based (such as eggs or chicken) to suit all of the eaters in my family. Some household favorites are fish and lentil tacos, chicken and tofu stir-fry, pizza and salad, and black bean burritos stuffed with lots of vegetables.

For me and my family what we eat is as important as how we eat. The point is that we eat all together as a family. We enjoy the company, talking about our day, and the ritual of sharing food. Food is not a part of deprivation or guilt in the household. It's about joy. That’s what healthy eating is to me.

This interview is adapted from a Manulife Heart & Stroke Ride for Heart webinar. Want to get even more great healthy eating info? Check out the full free video on YouTube.

For some more ideas and to learn more, check out these articles from Heart & Stroke:


© 2022, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. 

Related articles