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Healthy Eating for People With Heart Disease

For a person with heart disease, proper nutrition is essential to managing symptoms and preventing further complications. Not only can proper diet help slow the artery-clogging process and the rate at which it progresses, but when combined with careful lifestyle modification, it may even stop or reverse the narrowing of arteries. 

A heart-healthy diet can help reduce total and LDL cholesterol, lower blood pressure, lower blood sugars, and reduce body weight. While most dietary plans detail what CAN'T be eaten, the most powerful nutrition strategy helps people with heart disease focus on what they CAN eat. In fact, heart disease research has shown that adding heart-saving foods is just as important as cutting back on others. 

Here are some strategies to help you eat right with heart disease:

  • Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. These types of foods may be one of the most powerful strategies in fighting heart disease
  • Choose fat calories wisely, with three important goals:
    1. Limit total fat grams.
    2. Avoid eating saturated fats (butter, non-lean meats) and trans-fatty acids (found in commercial baked goods and deep fried foods).
    3. When you use added fat, use fats high in monounsaturates (canola and olive oils and some nuts, for example).
  • Incorporate a variety -- and just the right amount -- of protein foods (lean meat, low-fat dairy products, and fish).
  • Limit dietary cholesterol. By doing so, you will also be cutting out saturated fat, as cholesterol and saturated fat are usually found in the same animal foods.
  • Incorporate more complex carbohydrates and limit simple carbohydrates. Try to arrange meals throughout the day so that half the calories come from complex carbohydrates (pasta, potatoes, whole grain breads). Limit simple carbohydrates (regular soft drinks, sugar, sweets).
  • Distribute meals and snacks throughout the day. Eating five to six mini-meals is the best way to control blood sugars, burn fat calories more efficiently, and regulate cholesterol levels. Skipping meals may lead to overeating.


Other Heart-Healthy Strategies

De-emphasize salt in the diet to help lower blood pressure. Limiting dietary sodium (a mineral) is important to controlling blood pressure, but adding foods rich in other minerals (potassium, magnesium, and calcium) is just as important.

Encourage exercise every day. The human body was meant to be active. Exercise strengthens the heart muscle, improves blood flow, reduces high blood pressure, raises HDL, "good," cholesterol, and helps control blood sugars and body weight.

Hydrate. Water is vital to life, and staying well-hydrated will help you feel energetic and eat less. Most healthy adult men should drink about 3 liters of fluids a day and women about 2 liters (unless he or she is fluid restricted). Discuss the amount of fluids you should be drinking with your doctor.

An excellent motto to follow is: dietary enhancement, not deprivation. When people enjoy what they eat, they feel more positive about life, which helps them feel better. A bonus is that people may eat less when they eat healthy food they love, and that helps control weight and reduce cholesterol levels.

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