Eat whole grains. What's so special about whole grains? They help control your blood sugar, reducing your risk of diabetes by 20% to 30%. People who eat a lot of whole grains tend to weigh less, too. Go for whole-wheat breads, brown rice, wild rice, oatmeal, cornmeal, barley, and rye.
Eat less deli. Think that a smoked turkey sandwich is a healthier choice than a burger? Don't be so sure. Deli meats are often packed with salts, nitrates, and preservatives that can be bad for your heart. Instead, go for whole chicken breasts or in-house roasted turkey.
Eat less when eating out. Experts say we're eating too many calories. Restaurant portion sizes may have a lot to do with it. According to the CDC, the amount of food in one average restaurant meal today is like four average restaurant meals from the 1950s. Studies have also found that the bigger the portion served, the more we'll eat. The solution? Get in the habit of only eating half of what's on your plate. You can take the rest home.
Fill up on fiber. Fiber absorbs fat during digestion and reduces swelling in your arteries. It also helps with weight control because it makes you feel full faster -- and improves your digestive health. What's not to like? Fruit, vegetables, nuts, and beans are all good sources of fiber.
If you have atrial fibrillation or another condition treated with an anticoagulant like Coumadin (warfarin), be on the alert for vegetables with vitamin K. This vitamin can reduce the drug's effectiveness. Veggies with vitamin K include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach, and turnip greens. If you eat these foods, keep the amount you eat about the same from day to day. If you want to add any of these foods to your diet, talk to your doctor first. You may be able to introduce small amounts slowly.
The good news is that these actions help everyone -- whether you're trying to prevent heart problems in the future, are already living with high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or have a problem like atrial fibrillation, which often results from a diet-related heart problem.
The best news is: It's never too early -- or too late -- to improve your diet and heart health.