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What is a heart healthy diet? El Paso cardiologist says it doesn’t have to be restrictive or complicated

EL PASO, Texas - Whether you've recently had heart surgery, had it years ago, or just want to eat healthier to protect your heart, local cardiologist Dr. Chalam Mulukutla with Las Palmas Medical Center says consistency in your heart healthy diet is the key to success.

"A heart healthy diet means to eat healthy, but that can be tough because a lot of times people try to do too much or too many changes at once," said Dr. Mulukutla. "Don't make too many drastic changes. It is a balance to eat the things we want to along with the things we need to and that is it only way you will be able to stick with it."

Many times, Dr. Mulukutla said, people think a heart healthy diet has to be restrictive or complicated. But that isn't the case.

"If you're going to make changes, make them gradually," said Mulukutla. "Try and change one unhealthy eating habit at a time and every several weeks. For instance, start with sugary sodas, just concentrate one that for a few weeks. Then, maybe we start to talk about adding in eating more fiber-rich foods or more vegetables. But the goal should always be to start with one or two changes and then gradually incorporate others."

Can food improve your heart health? Dr. Mulukutla says yes. "Food can absolutely improve your heart health and prevent heart disease. Some studies show food can contribute to about 40% improvement in cardiac mortality. While it varies by individuals, sticking to some of the basics in the Mediterranean diet—eating grain, nuts, fruits and veggies, as well as the right type of fat and food is key."

But does a heart healthy diet mean you can't eat fats or certain foods? "If you get into the nitty gritty, there are certain types of fats that aren't good for you and those can sometimes be included in meat, dairy and poultry," Dr. Mulukutla said. "Olive oil and foods like avocado are rich in 'good fats.' But the biggest thing to remember is that you can eat what you want as long as you have portion control. Ultimately, your diet is based on how many calories you eat per day, so portion control, even with foods that have some of those bad fats will cut down on how much you are putting into your body."

"The most important advice I can give is that being heart healthy is a whole lifestyle choice. If you are active and eat healthy for the most part, it doesn't mean you have to compromise all the time what you choose to eat. Your heart and health are in your control."

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Mark Ross

Mark Ross is an anchor/producer for ABC-7.

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