According to recent data from the Center for Disease Control, heart disease is the #1 cause of death among men and women in the United States, affecting 11% of adults and the top 3 risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and smoking. The good news? Eating a healthy diet can help regulate high blood pressure and may aid in controlling cholesterol levels. Prevention is key, so follow these heart-smart diet tips and get on the path to good health.
Foods to Limit
According to the 2010 Dietary guidelines, a diet that is low in saturated & trans-fats, sodium and excess Calories is best for prevention of heart disease. These nutrients have all been found to be associated with the risk factors mentioned above, and should be consumed in moderation.
Saturated and trans-fats are present in things like deep fried foods, baked goods and other sweets. While the FDA recently announced a total ban on trans fats to be put in effect in three years, they’re still existing in our packaged foods! Additionally, food companies are allowed to label their items “0 grams trans fat per serving” if there are less than 0.5 grams per serving. So be sure to take a quick scan of the ingredients list. If you see the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” that means there are trans fats present and you should put that item back on the shelf!
Try to limit consumption of foods containing saturated fat (butter, hard cheeses, marbled meat, and cream) and enjoy them only in moderation. When dining out, opt for menu items that are “boiled”, “steamed” or “baked” rather than “sautéed”, “crispy” or “crunchy” (fancy menu terms for “fried”).
While you may think putting down the salt shaker at dinner is enough to limit your sodium intake, think again. Most of the salt in the American diet is actually found in processed foods such as: frozen meals, deli meats and some cereals. Canned foods also tend to be high in sodium, so be sure to drain and rinse thoroughly before eating. Baked goods can also contain a great deal of sodium, since an essential ingredient to baked goods is baking soda/sodium bicarbonate. Opt for foods that are labeled “low sodium” and try to limit consumption of processed foods in general.
Limiting sugar in the diet is also important as excess sugar consumption has been linked to overweight and obesity, major risk factors for heart disease. Added sugars contribute empty calories to the diet as they lack nutritive value. Check out my post on Added Sugar for more information and suggestions on how you can lower your daily intake.
A healthy diet should be packed full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It should also include lean proteins and foods rich in healthy fats and fiber. More specifically, the following nutrients are of particular focus when considering heart health as they can help to regulate cholesterol, lower blood pressure and maintain a healthy weight.
Fiber (specifically soluble fiber) has been shown to aid in lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. Fiber is mostly found in plant-derived foods. Plant components called “Phytostanols” and “Phytosterols” bind to cholesterol in the food you consume and carry it out of your body. Fiber also inhibits the synthesis of new cholesterol in the body, thereby reducing it in two ways. Foods high in soluble fiber include: oatmeal, nuts, beans, lentils, apples and blueberries.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids are essential for good heart health. Research has shown they can reduce inflammation in the body, a major contributor to cardiovascular disease. They also act as antioxidants, which combat free radicals in the body, thereby reducing the risk for not only heart disease but other conditions including Cancer and Parkinson’s Disease*. Omega-3’s are found in: fatty fish (salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel), nuts, avocado, and vegetable oils.
I hope you find these tips helpful and informative. What small change you can make in your diet to improve your heart health today?