Answers to Common Questions
Find answers to frequently asked questions about nutrition, like why healthy eating is important and how to improve your diet.
Eating a heart-healthy diet is one of the best ways to help lower blood pressure. Limiting salt intake and eating plenty of whole grains, fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, like with the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, can help significantly lower blood pressure.
Although the term vegetarian typically refers to someone who doesn’t eat meat, there are different types of vegetarians. Vegans are the strictest type of vegetarians, who avoid any type of meat or foods derived from animals (dairy, eggs, etc.). Other types of vegetarians eat dairy (lacto-vegetarians) or dairy and eggs (lacto-ovo-vegetarians), but avoid all other meat and fish.
What is a heart-healthy diet?
A heart-healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy, fish and nuts as part of a balanced diet. It’s important to limit intake of added sugars, salt (sodium) and bad fats (saturated and trans fats).
I'm a pharmacist in Ontario. Please clarify the health benefits/risks of coconut oil. Dietitians and trainers are advocating 1–2 tablespoons daily, putting it in coffee (with butter!). The packages say “no cholesterol.” But one tablespoon contains 130 calories and 12 grams of saturated fat. Related question: Is it better to eat margarine or butter?
Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, and for heart disease prevention we recommend avoiding trans fat and saturated fats. It is probably best to use spreads that are fortified with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) or plant sterols. A softer spread is probably healthier than hard butter, but it all depends on your calorie intake versus how many calories you use. An overall healthy lifestyle with eating a primarily Mediterranean-based diet and getting plenty of physical activity (two common guidelines are 10,000 steps per day or 30 minutes of activity five times per week) is the key.
Puja Mehta, MD, FACC
The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating rather than a formal diet plan. It features foods eaten in Greece, Spain, southern Italy and France, and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating foods like fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber breads and whole grains, and olive oil. Meat, cheese, and sweets are very limited. The recommended foods are rich with monounsaturated fats, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids.