According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States for men, women, and members of most racial and ethnic groups. These deaths can be prevented through small changes in health habits, such as stopping smoking, being physically active every day, and eating a heart healthy diet.
What is a heart healthy diet?
A heart healthy diet consists of a variety of fruits and vegetables each day. The American Heart Association recommends filling at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Strive for 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables each day. Many fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene, which is a form of vitamin A. These help to slow down or prevent atherosclerosis by reducing the buildup of plaque from cholesterol and other substances in the arteries.
Whole grain foods such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, beans, and lentils will provide more dietary fiber in your diet. Increased fiber has been shown to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease. Men should consume at least 35 grams of dietary fiber and women 25-27 grams per day.
Eat fish at least twice per week. Oily fish such as salmon, trout, and herring supply omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3’s help prevent blood platelets from clumping together and keep the lining of arteries smooth and free of damage. Omega 3’s may also raise HDL or good cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure.
Limit your intake of saturated fat. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. They raise LDL or bad cholesterol in your blood, which can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. Foods containing saturated fat include milk, cheese, butter, coconut and palm oils, and high fat meats such as marbled beef, pork, lamb, and dark meat poultry. Better food choices include lean meats, fish, skinless poultry, skim milk, and low-fat yogurt.
Sodium should be limited to no more than 1500 mg per day if you have high blood pressure, or 2300 mg per day for the general population. It is best to avoid adding salt to food during preparation and at the table as one teaspoon of salt contains 2325 mg sodium. Hidden sources of sodium also need to be considered, as many processed and convenience foods are very high in sodium. Reading labels and being mindful of the amount of sodium for the portion size you are eating helps to manage your blood pressure. Consider adding herbs, garlic, onions, lemon juice or salt free seasoning blends to provide flavor to your meals.
If you want to snack, consider eating a small handful of either walnuts or almonds, as these are also great sources of omega 3 fatty acids.
Drink water instead of sugary beverages. Try adding slices of fruit to beverages instead of sweetening beverages with sugar. According to the American Heart Association, drinking 12 ounces of sugary beverages more than once per day may lower HDL or good cholesterol and increase triglycerides, fats in the blood that can lead to heart disease. Additionally, increased intake of sugary beverages leads to weight gain. Losing 5-10% of your body weight can significantly lower your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. If you weigh 200 pounds, a 10-pound weight loss equates to 5% of your body weight.
Finally, if you consume alcohol, drink in moderation. Moderate alcohol intake is defined as 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men younger than 65 years of age. This recommendation decreases to 1 drink per day for men aged 65 and older. Portion sizes for beverage choices are either 12-ounce beer, 8–9-ounce malt liquor, 5-ounce wine or 1.5-ounce 80-proof spirits.
“Let food be the medicine, and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates
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