Heart Healthy Diet: What You Need to Know

Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, for both men and women. Although certain lifestyle factors, such as maintaining a stable weight or exercising regularly, are essential for maintaining a healthy heart and a strong body, what foods we choose to eat is equally important. Healthy eating habits are key to preventing heart disease and keeping you at your best. A healthy diet can reduce your chances of suffering from stroke and heart disease by as much as 80% ( helpguide.org).

If you aren’t sure where to start, it is worth making small changes in your nutrition and eating habits. These tips will help you understand the reasons behind nutrition recommendations and keep things straight.

Be Careful of the Fats You Eat

Fat is an essential part of your diet. There are certain types of fats that can adversely impact your heart health. These include trans-fat and the saturated fat. These fats can lower HDL cholesterol (aka good cholesterol), while increasing LDL cholesterol (aka poor cholesterol_) in the blood. If the levels of HDL or LDL cholesterol are out of control, or are excessive, excess cholesterol can build up in blood vessels and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Saturated fats are found in fatty meats, such as bacon, sausages, lamb, pork butter and cheese made from whole or half-fat milk.

Trans-fat can be either naturally occurring or artificially created. High levels of trans fat are also found in many packaged foods and fried foods.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), adults should reduce their intake of saturated fat to 5 to 6 percent of total calories. Trans fat should not exceed 1% of total calories.

Say No To Salt

Like fat, sodium is an essential mineral for our lives. Many bodily functions require sodium, including fluid volume, acid/base balance and transmission of signals for muscle function. Too much sodium can pose dangers. High blood pressure can be caused by sodium buildup in the bloodstream. If elevated blood pressure isn’t addressed, it can cause severe strain to your heart, plaque buildup, and eventually, increase your chances of having a stroke or heart attack.

It is difficult to reduce sodium intake. Checking the Nutrition Facts labels of products is a great place to begin when you want to reduce sodium intake. The law requires companies to disclose the amount of sodium and other ingredients in their products. You may not be aware that sodium can sneakily be added to foods in large quantities.

The one place sodium loves to hide is in food and drinks you order at a restaurant. More than 75% of sodium intake is actually from processed foods and restaurants (wow! To help reduce sodium intake, order takeout or eat out and request no salt added to your food.

These tips will help you reduce sodium intake and make your heart happy, even though they may sound difficult. The American Heart Association (AHA), recommends that you consume no more than 2,300 mgs of sodium per day. This is roughly the equivalent of one teaspoon of salt. For people over 50 and with chronic diseases, the recommendation is 1,500 mgs. These tips will help you meet this recommendation and reduce your risk of high blood pressure, strokes, heart failure, stomach cancer, kidney disease, osteoporosis and other conditions.

Don’t Forget the Fruit

Many people know that fruits and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet. Reduced consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with poor health and higher risk for major illnesses. According to 2017 estimates, 3.9 million deaths are due to insufficient fruit and vegetable consumption. It is important to include fruits and vegetables in your daily diet.

It is easy to incorporate fruits and vegetables! You can use fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables. Start slow if you have difficulty including fruits and veggies in your diet. Increase your daily vegetable or fruit intake gradually throughout the day. You may find that you eat just one serving of fruits or vegetables at a meal. Try adding another serving at lunch and dinner. This tip will become less daunting if you slowly introduce more fruits and veggies to your plate.

All fruits and veggies are delicious! AHA recommends that you eat at least half your plate of fruits and vegetables to meet the recommended daily intake of 4 1/2 cups. This may seem difficult, but it is possible. All produce counts. That means fresh, frozen, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables can all be used to help you reach your goals and improve your health.

Whole Grains and Refined Grains – Oh My!

Let’s start by understanding whole grain, refined grains, and fiber. Whole grains include the whole kernal. This includes the bran, germ, and endosperm. It contains all important nutrients such as B vitamins, iron, folic acid and magnesium. Refined grains, on the other hand, have been processed and milled, which reduces their nutritional value.

There are two types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. Increasing fiber intake is associated with lower levels of “bad cholesterol” ( remember LDL cholesterol) as well as a decreased chance of developing heart disease. High fiber foods are also more filling and have fewer calories. Whole grains are often high in fiber. Increasing your whole grain intake will also increase fiber consumption. Switch to whole grains for more benefits!

Whole grains are good for your blood cholesterol. They can also lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and obesity. AHA recommends that you consume at least half the grains you eat be whole grains and that you consume 28 grams of fiber daily. Whole grain breads, brown rice, whole grains, whole oats and whole grain barley are all examples.

Choose Your Protein

Many people consider meat to be their primary source of protein. Although meats like bacon, steaks, and burgers are high in protein, they also contain a lot of saturated fat ( reminder the “bad” fat). Consuming too many of these proteins can increase your risk of developing health problems such as obesity, high cholesterol and plaque buildup, and, of course, heart disease and stroke. These risks can be significantly reduced if you eat heart-healthy protein sources.

It can be hard to make changes in your “meat eating” habits. However, it doesn’t have to be difficult. A simple tip to manage meat and protein intake is to consider meat as a component of the meal instead of being the main course. Limit meat intake to 6 ounces per day ( hint: 1 serving = size of a deck of cards).

The AHA recommends that you include fish, shellfish and skinless poultry as healthy sources of protein. These alternative protein sources will improve your heart health.

It’s all about making small steps to protect your heart health and overall well-being.

Your greatest defense against stroke and heart disease is a healthy heart. These heart-healthy tips can be used immediately. Also, make sure to evaluate your diet regularly. Do not let heart disease control your life. Make the lifestyle changes that are most compatible with your goals and lifestyle.

Which suggestions are most in line with your health goals?

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