How to Eat to Protect Your Heart
One of the most effective ways to protect your heart is through eating a healthy diet. It can help you control your weight, manage your blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and minimize your risk of heart disease. Eating a heart-healthy diet will be most effective if you view it as a lifestyle rather than short-term diet plan.
Eating a Heart-Healthy Diet
Protect your heart and your arteries with a low-fat diet.Eating a high-fat diet increases your risks of obesity, clogged arteries, high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke. Try to eat no more than three servings of fat per day. A tablespoon of butter is a serving. Ways to do this include:
- Check the labels on food to see what types of fat they contain. Saturated fats are generally solid fats like butter and shortening. They increase your cholesterol and risk of heart disease. Keep saturated fats to 14 grams per day or less.
- Trans fats also increase your cholesterol, increasing your risk of clogged arteries and heart attacks. Try to eat no more than two grams of trans fats per day. If food says that it has fats which are “partially hydrogenated,” they may be trans fats.
- Unsaturated fats like monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are thought to be healthier than saturated and trans fats. They are found in oils, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
- The Mayo Clinic recommends the following fat sources: Olive, canola, vegetable, and nut oils; avocados; nuts; seeds; trans-fat-free margarine; cholesterol-lowering margarines like Benecol, Promise Activ, and Smart Balance. Less healthy fats include: Butter, lard, bacon fat, gravy, cream sauces, nondairy creamers, hydrogenated margarine, hydrogenated shortening, cocoa butter, chocolate, coconut, palm, cottonseed, and palm kernel oils.
Eat diverse fruits and vegetables.Many people don’t eat nearly enough fruits and vegetables. Try to consume four to five servings of both fruit and vegetables daily. A serving is a half a cup. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins and minerals and they are low in fat.
- Healthy ways to get fruits and vegetables include eating them fresh or frozen. If you purchase canned items, look for low sodium vegetables and fruits that are canned in juice or water.
- Avoid eating vegetables that are fried, breaded, or have heavy cream sauces. These are high in fat. Fruits that are canned in sugary syrups or are frozen with added sugar will increase your calorie intake.
- Prepare healthy snacks of fresh fruit and vegetables and keep them handy for when you are hungry. You can bring them with you to work or school for between meals. Apples, bananas, carrots, cucumbers and green peppers all make convenient, satisfying snacks when you are on the go.
Eat lean, not fatty, meats.Great sources of lean meats include poultry and fish. Limit your consumption of fatty red meats. The fat and cholesterol will build up in your arteries and increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and heart attacks. Limit your meat consumption to 6 servings per day. A serving is an ounce of meat or an egg.
- Trim the fat off your meat and remove the skin. There is often a layer of fat beneath the skin.
- Bake, grill, or roast meat instead of frying it.
- Salmon, herring, trout, and tuna are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which will help control your cholesterol. Try to eat them at least twice per week instead of other meats.
- This is exceptionally important when people have high cholesterol, blood pressure or other heart risks.
Manage your weight with six to eight servings of whole grains per day.Whole grains have more nutrients so they will fill you up faster than processed white breads. This will help you control your portion sizes. A serving is a slice of bread or a half a cup of cooked rice. Try making some easy replacements to increase the amount of whole grains you consume:
- Purchase whole wheat flour instead of white flour.
- Eat whole wheat pasta and breads instead of white.
- Eat brown rice instead of white.
- Barley and buckwheat are excellent additional sources of whole grains and fiber.
- Eat oatmeal instead of commercially prepared breakfast cereals. If you do eat commercially prepared cereals, look for ones that provide at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.
- Avoid eating muffins, frozen waffles, doughnuts, biscuits, quick breads, cakes, pies, and egg noodles.
Control your fat intake with low-fat dairy products.Low fat dairy can provide you with calcium and vitamin D, which is important for maintaining healthy bones. However, it is important to eat low-fat and low-salt varieties to avoid compromising your heart. Too much salt will increase your blood pressure and a high fat diet can increase your cholesterol and increase your risk of heart attacks; full-fat dairy, like cheeses and yogurts, contain high levels of both saturated fats and sodium. Limit your dairy intake to a maximum of three servings each day.
- Look up the serving size for the particular dairy product you're eating. One serving of milk is a cup (240 mL), a serving of yogurt is 6 oz (170 g), and a serving of cheese is 1 oz (28 g).
- Eat only low-sodium cheeses.
- Drink low-fat or skim milk, eat low-fat or skim yogurt, and avoid cream sauces. Restaurants often make cream sauces with heavy cream which is high in fat.
Reduce your hypertension risk with a low-salt diet.Hypertension, or high blood pressure, increases your chances of having heart disease. You can lower your blood pressure, and with it, your heart disease risk, by cutting down on salt. Try to eat no more than 2,300 mg of salt per day. Easy ways to cut your salt intake include:
- Removing the salt shaker from the table. Many people add a few shakes of salt to their plate right before they dig in. Try to eliminate this extra source of salt.
- Don’t salt rice or pasta water when you cook. If recipes call for salt, you can still add some salt, but try reducing it by at least half. If you are baking bread that will rise, it may need a small amount of salt, but you can still reduce the amount in the recipe.
- Check the labels on canned foods. Many have salt added. If possible, try to purchase low-salt canned foods. Because sodium is in salt, it may say "low-sodium" on the label.
- Replace salted snacks with a fruit or vegetable. Instead of eating chips, pretzels, or salted nuts, try eating a carrot or an apple.
Limit the amount of sweets you eat.Sugar is high in calories, but low in nutrients and fiber. This means it makes you prone to overeating when you are eating sugary foods. Because obesity increases your risks of developing heart problems, you should minimize the amount of processed sugars you eat. Eat five servings or less per week. A serving is a tablespoon of sugar or jelly.
- High levels of carbohydrates (which your body converts to sugar) negatively impact triglyceride levels which have a direct impact on the heart.
- Avoid candies, cakes, cookies, puddings, pies, and pastries.
- If you drink coffee or tea, don’t add sugar.
- Drink water instead of sugary sodas.
- Go easy on artificial sweeteners like Splenda, NutraSweet, and Equal.
Making Diet-Related Lifestyle Changes
Monitor your portion sizes.Keep track of how many servings you eat and avoid going back for seconds. If you need to, measure the amounts of food with a measuring cup to train yourself to correctly estimate amounts.
- Some people find it helpful to use a small plate or bowl to prevent themselves from taking too much food.
- Don’t eat the entire meal when you go out to eat. Restaurants often serve much more food than is healthy. If you enjoyed the meal, take it home and finish it the next day.
Reduce your alcohol intake.Alcohol is high in calories. Drinking too much may make you prone to obesity, which will then increase your risk of heart problems. If you drink, do so in moderation.
- Women and men over 65 should have no more than one drink per day.
- Men under 65 should limit their alcohol consumption to two drinks per day.
- A 12 oz beer, 5 oz glass of wine, or 1.5 oz of hard liquor qualifies as a drink.
Don’t use cigarettes as an appetite suppressant.Many people are reluctant to quit smoking because they are worried it will make them gain weight. Smoking and chewing tobacco increase your risk of having hard, narrow arteries. This increases your blood pressure, your risk of heart attacks, heart disease, and strokes. If you need help to both quit and manage your weight simultaneously, there are many resources available:
- Talk to your doctor or see a counselor
- Consult a nutritionist or dietician to develop a meal plan that will work for you
- Join support groups or call hotlines
- Discuss medications or nicotine replacement therapy with your doctor
Increase the amount of calories you burn through exercise.Exercise will help you to lose weight and keep it off. It will also help you to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Do 75–150 minutes of physical activity per week. You can spread it out however it works best with your schedule. Great low-cost options include walking, running, biking, swimming, and playing sports such as basketball or soccer.
- If you need to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, try to do at least 40 minutes of physical activity three to four days a week. You will probably be surprised how quickly you feel yourself getting fitter.
Sources and Citations
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