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Heart Disease Health Center

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How to Eat to Protect Your Heart


Choose meats wisely. Red meat is usually high in saturated fat, which may be bad for your heart. That doesn't mean you have to banish meat from your diet. Just be savvy. Choose the leanest cuts, and always cut off the fat. Look for cuts such as sirloin, flank, rump roast, and tenderloin. Or choose pork tenderloin, turkey, or chicken breast as an alternative.

Add more fish to your diet. You probably know that fish is good for you -- but not all fish is equal. Deep-fried cod doesn't count. Instead, grill or roast fish that is high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, trout, and sardines.

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%. (Diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease.) 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. Beware restaurant portion sizes. 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 eating only 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. Fruit, vegetables, nuts, and beans are all good sources of fiber.

Watch out for foods with vitamin K. Keep this in mind only if you’re taking an anticoagulant like Coumadin (warfarin). Vitamin K 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. It's never too early -- or too late -- to improve your diet and heart health.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on March 23, 2015
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