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Unlocking Heart-Healthy Insights: A Q&A with Natalie Eatedali

Cara Pearlman

With over two decades of industry experience, Cara possesses an extensive knowledge of the local real estate market...

With over two decades of industry experience, Cara possesses an extensive knowledge of the local real estate market...

Feb 22 8 minutes read

As we bid farewell to American Heart Month, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Natalie Eatedali, a renowned local nutritionist, to gather some expert insights on how we can prioritize heart health in our daily lives. Our discussion with Natalie was not only informative but also enlightening.  Thank you Natalie for offering practical tips and debunking common misconceptions surrounding cardiovascular health. 

Let's explore the highlights of our conversation and uncover insights to support our heart health goals.

What are some heart-healthy foods that you should incorporate into your diet?

Foods that are specifically heart-healthy are also healthy for all systems of the body.  In particular, whole grains, beans, berries, avocado, olive oil, nuts, and seeds.  Whole grains, beans, and berries have fiber.  Avocado, olive oil, nuts, and seeds have monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (aka healthy) fats, which leads seamlessly into our next question’s answer….

Are there any specific nutrients or supplements that can support heart health?

Eating foods that are inherently high in fiber are always a good idea.  Fiber helps to rid the body of cholesterol and other toxins before it has a chance to get absorbed into your system.  Additionally, naturally high fiber foods are amongst the most nutrient dense foods you can eat.  If a food contains intrinsic fiber, you can rest assured that it is high in other heart-healthy nutrients.

Eating foods that contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat sources are considered “functional foods” meaning that they do good things in the body when consumed, this includes favorable changes to your serum lipid profile, which is good for your heart health.

What are some common misconceptions about heart-healthy eating that you often encounter?

That you have to eat low-fat or non-fat.  Often when fat is removed from a product to make it low or non-fat, sugar and/or other chemicals are added to compensate for the loss in flavor and texture. Further, eating monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat food sources can be beneficial to your cardiac health.  Certain fats of course should be chosen sparingly – foods that are high in saturated fats like processed meats and cheeses, but avoiding all fats is not the way to go.

Can you provide tips for dining out while still maintaining a heart-healthy diet?

Go veggie-heavy.  Vegetables should be about 50% of your meal – they are the star.  Vegetables are high in heart-healthy fiber, as well as a variety of other nutrients.  When choosing your protein, go for lean cuts of animal meats (white meat, no skin, seafood) as opposed to fattier cuts that contain more saturated fat (ribs, ribeye, salami, bacon).  Veggies should be the star, with protein and starches in the supporting roles.

How does sugar intake impact heart health, and what are some healthier alternatives?

Eating a diet that has too much added sugar can raise your triglyceride levels – a component of your lipid panel – sometimes more-so than a high fat diet.  Many people believe that they should look at the cholesterol content on the nutrition facts label when, in reality, dietary cholesterol does not impact serum cholesterol, but sugar does.  Excess sugar gets stored as fat in the body leading to weight gain which further increases cardiac risk.  I always review how to read a food label with my clients – there is certain information that is important to assess and other information that can be skipped entirely.

Healthier alternatives are eating minimally processed foods.  Meaning, foods that don’t contain a ton of ingredients, foods where the ingredient list is easy to pronounce and identify.  Some examples of this are air popped popcorn vs movie theater microwave popcorn.  Choosing plain full-fat Greek yogurt and adding berries as opposed to non-fat cherry flavored regular yogurt.

What role does exercise play in heart health, and how does it complement a balanced diet?

Exercise helps to make your actual heart muscle stronger.  Exercise promotes your muscles to utilize the sugar in your blood instead of storing it as fat.  By exercising, you are utilizing the food you ingested from food, instead of storing the excess.  Further, exercise has shown to increase the activity of certain enzymes in the body that help lower serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Are there any particular cooking methods or recipes that are especially beneficial for heart health?

Cooking with olive or avocado oils which have heart-healthy fats is recommended, as opposed to shortening, lard, or butter.  A good rule of thumb is that liquid fats (oils) typically contain more heart-healthy fats than fats that are solid (butter, lard).  Roasting or lightly sautéing is healthier than frying. I like to tell my clients to use an oil sprayer to help disperse the oil on the food and ultimately help you to use less. Boiling, steaming, or grilling are also good options because they use little to no added fat.

How can you effectively manage portion sizes to support heart health goals?

There are a couple of rules of thumb I like to tell my clients:

  • Use a small plate.  The bigger the plate, the more you will eat.

  • Never go for seconds.  You don’t need it.

  • Stop eating when you are no longer hungry, as opposed to when you are full --- if on a scale of 1-10 1 is starving and 10 is stuffed, stop eating when you’re at a 6/7 instead of a 9-10

  • Fill ½ your plate with veggies and eat them first

Are there any foods or ingredients you should avoid or limit to promote heart health?

Processed foods.  Foods that have a long ingredient list, that are shelf stable (think: vending machine items and shelf-stable baked goods), and that contain grains that are not “whole” often are stripped of their nutrition and have added sugar and chemicals.  Fresh minimally processed foods where the ingredients are easily identified and pronounced typically are the healthiest for you and your heart.

What is your family's favorite room in your home?

Kitchen/family room.  It’s where we gather, and where we eat – there is a no phone/iPad policy during family meals.  This promotes conversation and family bonding, which is very good for the heart.

Thank you, Natalie, for taking the time to sit down with us and sharing your expertise to help us prioritize heart health. Here’s to nurturing our hearts and embracing a heart-healthy lifestyle in 2024 and beyond!

Interested in learning more? Natalie Eatedali is a Registered Dietitian with a Master's degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. She has been practicing as a dietitian since 2005, initially in New York before relocating to the DMV area in 2012. For more information, visit her website at or reach out to Natalie directly at [email protected] or 202.681.6126.

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