5 Tips for Healthy Hearts through Healthy Eating

February is Heart Month, and one of the best ways to take care of your heart is to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Use the following five tips to make sure you’re eating for heart health: Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables: At least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day are recommended for most people. Fruits and vegetables are generally high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and low in fat and calories. Try adding fresh fruit and vegetables as snacks. Keep washed and cut vegetables easily accessible in your refrigerator. Baby carrots, mandarin oranges, apples, and cut up bell peppers make easy and healthy snacks on the go. Incorporate chopped vegetables into store-bought pasta sauce or in meatloaf.

1. Include healthy fats from fish and vegetable sources: Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are less damaging to your heart and blood vessels, and may actually have some heart protecting effects.

Vegetable and fish oils are good sources of these “essential” fatty acids. These are fats that our bodies require and we must get from food sources. Research indicates that consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease the risk of arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) and may help slow the progression of atherosclerosis, or the hardening plaque in arteries that increases risk for heart attack and stroke.
The American Heart Association recommends that individuals get at least two (3.5 ounce) servings of fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, per week.
Vegetable sources of Omega-3’s include walnuts, flaxseed, vegetable oils such as canola and olive, and soy products such as tofu.

2. Make at least half of your grains whole (and more if you can). Whole grains naturally contain B vitamins, minerals and are a great source of fiber. Fiber is important for heart health in several ways.

Soluble fiber (found in oat bran, oatmeal, whole grain rice, and the pulp of fruits and vegetables) can reduce LDL cholesterol more than a low fat and low saturated fat diet alone. Insoluble fiber (found in whole wheat cereals and breads, whole grain rice, most other whole grains and vegetables) is associated with decreased cardiovascular disease risk and slowed progression of heart disease in those at high risk.

Consumption of whole grains rather than refined grains is also associated with more successful weight loss in those individuals who are trying to achieve a healthy body weight. Refined grains and products high in added sugar are not as satiating and don’t provide the same nutrients as whole grain products.

3. Monitor sodium, fat and added sugar intake. Individuals with high blood pressure (hypertension) may be sensitive to sodium. Fat consumption, in particular saturated and “trans fat” consumption, are associated with increased LDL cholesterol and increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

Saturated fat is found in high fat animal products such as full fat dairy, chicken with the skin, and the marbling in steaks. “Trans” fat is generally found in fast foods and shelf-stable baked products like cookies and muffins.

Look for items that are trans fat free and do not have “hydrogenate or partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients. Limit the amounts of saturated fat in your diet to less than 15 grams per day.

4. It is also important to limit the amounts of added sugar and refined carbohydrates in your diet. If you routinely consume sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, sweetened tea, juice or sweetened coffee beverages, this is a good place to start.

If you cut just one 12 ounce can of soda from your diet, this can result in a weight loss of over 15 pounds in one year. What a relief for your heart. Refined carbohydrate consumption can also increase the triglycerides, or fat, in your blood, which is associated with increased risk for heart disease.

5. Maintain a healthy body weight: Being overweight or obese is associated with a significant increase in heart disease risk. Talk with your doctor about your BMI (Body Mass Index) and whether it puts you at increased risk for heart disease.

Even more important than your BMI is your body composition which is the amount of fat and muscle in your body. Extra weight carried as fat in your body is harmful for your health, whereas muscle is not. Exercise is one of the best ways to manage your weight and improve your body composition.

Make sure that you get at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Try to include both aerobic (such as walking, running and swimming) and strength training (such as weight lifting or pushups and squats) for the most benefit.

If you would like more information about how to eat for heart health, please visit the American Heart Association at heart.org or learn about healthful eating at choosemyplate.gov.

If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol and would like more information on nutrition, ask your doctor for a referral to Nutrition Care or call 486-7144 or 06371-86-7144 to enroll in our Heart Health Nutrition Class.