Heart disease is among the leading causes of death for men and women in the United States. While certain lifestyle factors, such as maintaining a stable weight and exercising regularly, are important in maintaining a healthy heart, the foods we choose to eat are just as important. Eating healthy is one of your best weapons in fighting heart disease and feeling healthier. In fact, choosing to eat a heart-healthy diet can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by 80% (helpguide.org).
When you’re not sure where to start, choosing to simply change your eating habits and nutrition is a great place to start. To help you keep things clear and understand the reasoning behind the various nutritional recommendations, consider some of the following tips.
Pay attention to the type of fat you eat
Fat is essential in your diet; in other words, you need it! However, certain types of fat can have a negative impact on the health of your heart; Specifically, trans fats and saturated fats are the two types of fat of greatest concern. Both of these types of fats can affect blood cholesterol levels by lowering HDL cholesterol levels (aka: good cholesterol) while increasing LDL cholesterol (aka: bad cholesterol) in your blood. When HDL and LDL cholesterol levels are not within normal limits or are out of proportion, excess cholesterol can build up in the walls of blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. cerebral.
Foods with saturated fat include fatty beef, bacon, sausage, lamb, pork butter, cheese, and other dairy products made with whole or two percent milk.
Trans fats are both natural and artificially made. Many fried foods and packaged products also contain high levels of trans fats.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults limit their intake of saturated fat to five to six percent of their total calories. Consumption of trans fat should be less than one percent of total calorie intake.
Say no to salt
Similar to fat, sodium is an essential mineral for life. Sodium is needed for many bodily functions, including fluid volume, acid-base balance, and signaling for muscle function. However, too much sodium can pose risks. When sodium is high in the bloodstream, it can increase water retention in the blood vessels, causing high blood pressure. Over time, if high blood pressure isn’t resolved, it can strain your heart, contribute to plaque buildup, and ultimately increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke.
Sodium is a delicate ingredient and takes a bit more effort and attention to detail when trying to reduce it. A good place to start when trying to reduce your sodium intake is to check the Nutrition Facts labels on products. Companies are required by law to disclose the amount of sodium, as well as other ingredients, in their products. As mentioned earlier, sodium can be sneaky and added to foods in large amounts without you even knowing it.
One place sodium likes to hide is in the meals and dishes you order in restaurants. In fact, over 75% of sodium intake comes directly from processed foods and restaurants (wow!). Therefore, in order to help reduce sodium intake when choosing to eat out or order, ask not to add salt to your dishes.
Although these tips may seem demanding, your sodium intake will be drastically reduced and your heart will be happy. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, which is roughly the size of a teaspoon of salt (the recommendation is even lower, 1,500 milligrams, for people with chronic illness and over 50)! Implementing these tips will not only help you meet this recommendation, but will also lower your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, disease. renal, etc.
Don’t skip vegetables (or fruits)
As many of us know, eating fruits and vegetables is an important part of a healthy diet. Reduced consumption of products is linked to poor health and an increased risk of serious illnesses. In fact, it has been estimated that 3.9 million deaths worldwide are attributed to inadequate consumption of fruits and vegetables (2017). Therefore, including fruits and vegetables in your daily diet is something that cannot be ruled out.
Incorporating fruits and vegetables is very easy! Whether frozen, canned or fresh, each will be nutritious enough. If you’ve found it difficult to include fruits and vegetables in your diet, start slowly. Try to gradually increase your portions of fruits or vegetables throughout the day. If you now only eat one serving of vegetables or fruit at a meal, add one serving at lunch and another at dinner. Slowly introducing more and more fruits and vegetables to your plate will make this trick less overwhelming.
The advantage of eating fruits and vegetables, they are all good! The AHA recommends filling at least half of your plate with fruits and vegetables to reach the recommended 4 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables per day. While this recommendation may seem impossible, remember: all products matter, which means canned, fresh or frozen varieties can help you reach your goals, improve your diet and improve your health.
Whole Grains, Refined Grains and Dietary Fiber – Oh my God!
Let’s start with understanding whole grains, refined grains, and fiber. Whole grains contain the entire kernel, which consists of 3 parts, bran, germ and endosperm, providing all kinds of important nutrients like B vitamins, folic acid, fiber, iron and magnesium. On the other hand, the refined grains have been ground and processed, which depletes the grain of the previously mentioned nutrients.
Dietary fiber comes in two forms: insoluble and soluble. Increased fiber intake is associated with reduced levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (remember: LDL cholesterol) and reduced risk of heart disease. Another benefit is that foods high in fiber can help you feel fuller for longer and contain fewer calories. Foods high in fiber are usually whole grains too! Therefore, increasing your intake of whole grains means that you are also increasing your intake of fiber. Why not kill two birds with one stone and switch to more whole grains!
Incorporating whole grains can help improve blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. The AHA recommends that at least half of the grains that you eat are whole grains and consume 28 grams of dietary fiber per day. This includes foods like whole grain bread, brown rice, whole oats, whole grain barley and more.
Be picky with protein
For many of us, meat is the main source of protein. However, popular meat sources such as burgers, steaks, and bacon, while high in protein, are major sources of saturated fat (recall: the “bad” fat). High consumption of these types of proteins can lead to an increased risk of many health complications like obesity, high cholesterol, plaque buildup and of course heart disease and stroke. Switching to heart-healthy sources of protein can help significantly reduce these risks and maintain a heart-healthy diet.
It can be difficult to make changes to “meat eating” habits, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. A simple tip for managing protein and meat consumption is to treat meat like apart of the meal, instead of main event. Try to limit meat to 6 ounces per day, which is 2 servings (index: individual portion of meat = size of the deck of cards).
When it comes to heart-healthy sources of protein, the AHA recommends including fish, shellfish, skinless poultry, and trimmed lean meats such as various cuts of pork. Starting to incorporate these alternative protein sources into your diet will help you get on the right track with your heart health.
Remember, it’s all about taking simple steps to protect your heart and your overall health.
Eating heart-healthy food will be your best protection against heart disease and stroke. Start today by using these heart-healthy tips and continuously evaluating your diet. Don’t let heart disease rule your world, make the changes that best suit your lifestyle and health goals.
Which of the above suggestions matches the health goals you have in mind?