A Heart-Healthy Diet
A heart healthy diet begins by paying close attention to what you eat. You can reduce your chance of developing atherosclerosis, the blocked arteries that cause heart disease, with a heart healthy diet. If the artery-clogging process has already begun, you can at least slow down the process.
Feed Your Heart Well
Feeding your heart well is a powerful way to reduce or even eliminate some risk factors. Adopting a heart-healthy nutrition strategy can help reduce total and LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol), lower blood pressure, lower blood sugars, and reduce body weight. While most dietary plans just tell you what you can't eat, the most powerful nutrition strategy helps you focus on what you 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 nine nutrition strategies to reduce your heart disease risk:
- Eat more fish. Fish is a good source of protein and other nutrients. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends two servings a week of omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish like salmon.
- Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans. These beautiful and delicious wonders of nature may be one of the most powerful strategies in fighting heart disease.
- Choose fat calories wisely. Keep these goals in mind:
- Limit total fat grams.
- Eat a bare minimum of trans fats and no more than 7% to 10% of calories from saturated fats (for example, fats found in butter, hard margarine, salad dressing, fried foods, snack foods, sweets, and desserts).
- When you use added fat, use fats high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats (for example, fats found in canola, olive, and peanut oil).
- Eat a variety -- and just the right amount -- of protein foods. Commonly eaten high-fat protein foods (meat, dairy products) are among the main culprits in increasing heart disease risk. Reduce this nutritional risk factor by balancing animal, fish, and vegetable sources of protein and choosing the leanest protein sources.
- Limit cholesterol consumption. Limiting dietary cholesterol is recommended in nutrition guidelines. Get energy by eating complex carbohydrates (whole-wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, whole-grain breads) and limit simple carbohydrates (regular soft drinks, sugar, sweets). The American Heart Association says it is OK to have an egg a day for healthy adults. When it comes to lowering blood cholesterol levels, limiting saturated fats is more important than dietary cholesterol intake. The recommendation is not to exceed 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol each day.
Other Heart-Healthy Strategies
- Reduce salt intake. This will help control blood pressure.
- Exercise. The human body was meant to be active. Exercise strengthens the heart muscle, improves blood flow, reduces high blood pressure, raises HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol), and helps control blood sugars and body weight.
- Hydrate. Water is vital to life. Be sure to stay adequately hydrated.
- Enjoy every bite. Your motto should be dietary enhancement, not deprivation. When you enjoy what you eat, you feel more positive about life, which helps you feel better. An added bonus is that you eat less when you eat food you love, and that helps control weight and reduce cholesterol levels.