Your heart is perhaps the most important muscle in your body. If your heart is not functioning properly, the organs in your body are not getting the proper amount of oxygen they need to function at their fullest. That’s their nutrition! And by supplying your body and your heart with foods that are healthful, your heart will pump rich, oxygenated blood through your veins and to the organs that help our bodies to function at peak performance.
We have been told many times that eating certain foods can increase our risk for heart disease. Did you know that eating other foods may help to reduce your risk? I know it can be a challenge to change your eating habits, but when it comes to your heart and your overall health, it’s worth it, whether you have been eating “unhealthy” for years or you simply want to give your diet a minor tune up. Keeping your heart healthy may add years to your life. Knowing what to eat more of and what to limit will get you well on the way to a heart healthy diet.
Here are some tips to help you get on the road to better heart health.
1. Control your portion size
How much you eat is just as important as what you eat.
Use a small plate or bowl to help control your portions. Eat larger portions of nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and smaller portions of high-sodium foods, such as refined, processed or fast foods. This strategy can help you to slim down your waistline and help your heart to function more efficiently.
Did you know that the proper serving size for pasta is only ½ cup while the serving size for meat, fish, or chicken is about 3 ounces?
2. Eat more vegetables and fruits
Vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. They are also low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. Nutrients found in plants may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Eating more nutrient-dense foods may help you eat less high-fat foods, such as meats, cheeses, and snack foods. They tend to fill you up more and give your body the fiber that it needs.
Did you know that studies have shown if you keep fresh fruits and vegetables washed and cut in your refrigerator or on your countertop you are more likely to reach for that than you are for a high fat, high sugar snack?
Try to choose recipes that have vegetables or fruits as their main ingredients. You can find recipes like this on the YMCA of Central Florida recipe page.
3. Select more whole grains
Whole grains are great sources of fiber and other nutrients that help regulate blood pressure, cholesterol, and overall heart health. It’s easy to increase the amounts of whole grains by just substituting them for the non-whole grains you already use. For example, you can use whole grain pasta for white pasta or 7-grain bread for your typical white wheat.
Did you know that whole-grain pasta is an excellent source of B vitamins, and iron? The most common whole-grain pastas are made from whole wheat, brown rice or buckwheat.
4. Limit unhealthy fats
Limiting how much saturated and trans fats you eat is an important step to reduce your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of coronary artery disease. A high blood cholesterol level can lead to a buildup of plaques in your arteries, which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Did you know that The American Heart Association offers these guidelines for how much fat to include in a heart-healthy diet?
5. Choose low-fat protein sources
What are some of the best sources of low-fat protein? Fish poultry and lean cuts of meat, low-fat dairy products, and eggs. Make sure you choose lower fat options, such as skim milk rather than whole milk and skinless chicken breasts, grilled or baked fish rather than say, fried chicken or fried fish. Legumes such as beans, peas and lentils are also good sources of protein and contain less fat and no cholesterol, making them great substitutes for meat.
Did you know that fish is an excellent alternative to high-fat meats? Certain types of fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower blood fats better known as triglycerides. You'll find the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Other good sources of the amazing omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans and canola oil.
6. Reduce the sodium in your food
High levels of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Reducing your sodium intake is an important part of a heart-healthy diet.
Reducing the amount of salt you add to your food is a good first step. However, much of the salt we eat comes from canned or processed foods. Eating fresh foods and making your own soups and stews can reduce the amount of salt intake. Try substituting fresh herbs and spices in your food to add flavor.
Did you know that adults should have no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day? That’s equal to about a teaspoon of salt.
7. Plan ahead: Create daily menus
Create daily menus using the strategies above. Remember to emphasize vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Choose lean protein sources, healthy fats, and limit salty foods. Check your portion sizes and add variety to your food choices.
Did you know that planning out your meals and snacks will help you to eat better and live a healthier life?
By: Gary Appelsies – Director of Healthy Eating YMCA of Central Florida