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Chocolate and Other Heart Healthy Foods

You hear all the time about heart healthy foods, but did you know that chocolate is one of those? It is great news to those of us that love it, but what kind of chocolate is the best, and how much do you need to eat to get the benefits? 

Listen as Hillary Joel, a Tidelands Health Dietitian, discusses super foods for a healthy heart that also include an all time favorite, chocolate!
Chocolate and Other Heart Healthy Foods
Featured Speaker:
Hillary Joel
Hillary Joel is a Tidelands Health Dietitian.

Bill Klaproth (Host): It’s clear a heart healthy diet can help lower your risk of coronary artery disease, and there’s a variety of heart healthy foods and superfoods that support heart health. Here to tell us more is Hillary Joel, a health dietician at Tidelands Health. Hillary, thanks for your time. How do we identify heart healthy foods?

Hillary Joel (Guest): Well, when it comes to heart health, there’s two main nutrition aspects for a healthy diet, and that would be salt and fat. Now, the recommendations used to be to eat fat free, but we now know that that’s a very outdated recommendation. If they’re taking the fat out of something, they’re typically putting sugar in it, and sugar is not good for us, either. So, it’s more about the type of fat that you have in your diet.

Bill: And, what is the good kind of fat, then? What should we be looking for?

Hillary: Well, your heart healthy fats are going to be any of your unsaturated fats and your Omega-3 fatty acids. So, your unsaturated fats are going to come from things like oil, fish, avocado, nuts, flax seed. Omega-3s are going to be in primarily your seafood and your flax seed, walnuts. So, those are all great things to be adding into your diet.

Bill: So, unsaturated fats--we should look for oil, fish, avocados, nuts, and then look for the Omega-3. So, those are the good kinds of fat.

Hillary: Correct. Yes.

Bill: And then, you mentioned salt, too. Now, we hear conflicting reports about salt, “Oh, salt’s bad, bad, bad.” But then you hear, “You know, the body does need salt.” So, how do we navigate salt?

Hillary: Well, it’s okay to have a little bit of salt. The recommendation is really to stick to around 1,500 milligrams a day. For example, if you’re using added salt on your food, one salt packet is about 300 milligrams. So, it really adds up. Salt is also in pretty much everything nowadays, so the best thing you can do is not use any added on your food. Really salty foods are going to be in things like processed meats--anything that’s processed in a package, frozen foods, canned foods, snack foods, sauces. When it comes to sodium, or salt, fresh is best. You know, the fresher the food the better.

Bill: So, step away from the salt shaker and pay attention to the raw vegetables because the processed-- like you said, the stuff that comes in cans and boxes are going to have that added salt in there which certainly is not good.

Hillary: Yes. Correct. You can look for no salt added, as well. That tends to cut it back a little bit, too.

Bill: And, what’s in these superfoods that are so good for us?

Hillary: Well, there’s a couple so-called “superfoods” that have been shown to help with heart health. For instance, tea is one of them. Black tea, green tea--studies have shown that they help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. They help lower that bad cholesterol, that LDL cholesterol, as well as triglyceride levels. So, consuming a couple glasses of tea a day is also something good you can do for your heart. Another superfood is dark chocolate, and by dark chocolate we mean at least 60% cacao content, and the cacao is the bean that produces the chocolate that’s going to have the highest level of antioxidants. So, there is a difference, though, between dark chocolate and the milk chocolate that you’ll find on the shelf. You know, you don’t want too much of the milk chocolate, either, because that’s going to add a lot of fat and added sugars, whereas the dark chocolate has less of that. So, you still want to limit to one to two ounces a day, but studies have also shown that the dark chocolate kind of does the same thing the tea does.

Bill: Well, that’s good advice. Stay away from the milk chocolate because we all love chocolate, right? But that’s good. Pay attention to the dark chocolate and make sure it’s got at least 60% of the cacao powder in it. And then, tea, that’s a good suggestion. Black tea or green tea, and what? A couple of cups a day? That would be beneficial for heart health.

Hillary: Correct. Yes.

Bill: So, these heart healthy foods and these superfoods, they really benefit more than our hearts, right? I mean, it’s just good for our bodies, help to lower cholesterol, et cetera, right? It’s just good all-around for us.

Hillary: Yes. They’ve also shown to have, you know, some cancer preventative benefits, as well. So, not just for the heart, kind of for the whole body, in general, like you said.

Bill: So, Hillary, help us out, here. How do we fit more of these heart healthy foods in our diet?

Hillary: Well, for the tea you could always have a cup of tea in the morning instead of coffee, or afternoon. You can work in things like avocado and nuts into your salad. The same goes for chia and flax seed. That can be added into a smoothie. Trying to make sure you’re getting one to two servings of fish per week. That’s kind of the recommendation as far as those omega-3s go. So, there’s definitely ways you can add it into what you’re already doing.

Bill: Well, that’s a good way to look at it, just on a daily basis, like you said. Substitute that cup of tea instead of coffee, and then try to get avocados and nuts into your salad. Try to have fish at least once or twice a week. So, those are good ways to start thinking about introducing these heart healthy foods into your diet. And, do these foods need to be organic?

Hillary: Not necessarily. Organic more so means, you know, free of a lot of additives like pesticides and such. So, I guess for fruits and vegetables that might be something to focus on, but, otherwise, you know, the packaged foods don’t necessarily need to be organic--things like chia and flaxseed and nuts.

Bill: All right, I’m going to get personal with you here, Hillary. Okay, you ready for this?

Hillary: I’m ready.

Bill: If you had to choose one of these to eat daily, what would it be?

Hillary: The dark chocolate. For sure.

Bill: That’s good advice. That’s good advice. And, you know, I forget about that and everybody loves chocolate so it really is good to introduce that into your diet every day, of course, following your guidelines. You don’t want to eat too much of it, but that’s a simple and easy way to introduce something into your diet every day. And, we all love chocolate. So, it’s something you love, right?
Hillary: Yes, absolutely.

Bill: So, as far as these superfoods go, you’ve given us some examples of how to introduce this into our diet every day. Is there a certain amount that we need? Is there a baseline of a minimum of at least we should do every day?

Hillary: Well, it kind of depends on what you’re looking at. The tea, you know, one to two cups a day is beneficial. The studies that when they tested the tea intake, it was three to six cups a day for real benefits in lowering the risk of heart disease. So, the more the better when it comes to things like that. Dark chocolate, like I said, you want to limit to one to two ounces a day just because it is higher in calories and sugar. But, as far as other things like the chia seed, the flax seed, avocado--those are good to go. You just can work it into your daily calories, as well, because keep in mind all food has calories, so that needs to be factored in, as well.

Bill: That’s good. So, that’s a good reminder. And as far as cooked or raw, does that make a difference when it comes to these vegetables?

Hillary: Kind of. It depends on how you’re cooking it. Steaming is going to be your best way to retain the most nutrients as opposed to something like boiling or cooking them in the microwave. Steaming is probably going to retain the most.

Bill: Alright. So, that’s another good suggestion on that. Hillary, what else do we need to know about heart healthy foods or superfoods?

Hillary: Well, there are bad fats, as well, that I didn’t quite mention. I mean, the biggest thing that has been found to impact heart health is the red meat. So, trying to watch how much of that fatty beef and fatty pork and those processed meats like sausage and bacon, those need to be limited because those have the biggest impact on your heart health when it comes to the bad fats or the saturated fats.

Bill: So, limit red meat and, of course, limit the processed foods. Just by eliminating those and introducing some of the other heart healthy foods, like you said, it’s really a good way to transition from, potentially poor eating habits into healthier, better eating habits, then, right?

Hillary: Absolutely. It doesn’t have to be doing everything all at once. It can be small baby steps and small changes to really make a big difference in your health.

Bill: Well, that’s a great way to put it. Those small, simple steps and by doing that, eventually you’ll get there and you’ll probably have longer lasting success if you slowly adopt changes in your diet. So, great advice. Well, Hillary, thank you so much for your time, again. And, tell us, why should someone choose Tidelands for their heart health needs?

Hillary: Well, I feel at Tidelands Health we do a great job of treating you like one of our own family members. We also help get you on the road to recovery and create a healthy lifestyle overall.

Bill: Well, Hillary, thank you so much, again. For more information about Tidelands Health physicians, services, and facilities, visit That’s This is Better Health Radio. I’m Bill Klaproth. Thanks for listening.