Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Dallas -Fort Worth Metroplex Edition


The Nutritional Heart Health Connection

Healthy diets are having a moment right now, with advice about heart-healthy, plant-based eating, food allergies and sensitivities finding a receptive audience among those that want to extend their lives and enjoy the years that they gain. We asked three prominent local professionals to weigh in on the topic.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Jennifer Hanes, LD, Membership Chair Behavioral Health Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group, says, “Dietitians are not only trained in evidenced-based nutrition concepts. We also learn and utilize various behavioral and counseling models in order to help our clients and/or patients develop new habits that they can stick with, determining not only what could improve their health, but which changes they can work on, stick with and are willing to attempt. We are not the food police enforcing of some strict meal plan.

She notes, “Stress management is a large part of chronic disease management. Trying to include foods that you hate or completely eliminate foods that you love leads to nothing but stress, misery and then complete abandonment of any more moderate measurements that could be achieved. Manage stress with adequate fruit, vegetable and lean protein intake, moderate activity you enjoy, activity breaks when stuck at a desk for hours and a focused effort to de-stress at the end of the day. For those already diagnosed with heart disease, Make small goals rather than trying to change everything all at once.”

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Ruth T. Murillo, LD, association director of nutrition services at YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth, explains, “What a dietitian provides is unbiased information based on the current scientific literature available. It isn’t just their opinion or personal experience: it is fact. On top of that, a dietitian can customize recommendations to you individually based on your personal medical history, health and wellness goals and even food preferences.”

Some foods are better than others for promoting heart health. Black Beans are high in fiber, low in calories and have almost half a days’ worth of magnesium in half a cup. All kinds of berries, including cherries, are a good source of polyphenols, a natural antioxidant compound that has been linked to lower rates of cardiovascular disease. Chia seeds are loaded with fiber, protein, vitamins and heart-healthy Omega-3 fats.

There a few to definitely avoid. Fried foods are not only a major source of fat, they also lack good nutrients the body needs. Sugar-sweetened beverages are the number one source of added empty calories today. They offer little nutrition and frequently contain sodium and caffeine, neither of which is good for the heart. Baked sweets like cakes, cookies, pies and donuts primarily made with sugar, butter and refined flour can cause problems when eaten in excess.

“Lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy and balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes is one of the best ways to increase heart health and extend longevity. “On top of that, I would recommend moderate physical activity for at least two-and-a-half hours per week to help maintain heart health and extend longevity,” says Murillo.


Araceli Vázquez, MS, RDN, LD, advises, “A registered dietitian is a professional expert on nutrition who has completed a minimum of a bachelor’s degree program with major in human nutrition, food and nutrition, nutrition education, dietetics or food systems management and internship approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics, passed a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration and completed continuing professional education requirements. Some dietitians hold higher degrees I hold a Master of Science degree in Nutrition.”

She recommends, “To maintain heart health and extend longevity, make physical activity, healthful meal preparation and eating meals with family a priority. Enjoy dancing, jogging, walking, hiking, biking, swimming, etc. Maintain a healthy state of mind by reading and participate in activities that require critical thinking. Sleep enough, meditate, practice gratitude, be patient with others and yourself, love your family and do not forget to tell others how much you love them. Visit a registered dietitian for an individualized meal plan and follow up with all the members of your medical team.”