A healthy diet and lifestyle are crucial in preventing and fighting against cardiovascular disease. While many of us know that certain foods are directly linked to an increased heart disease risk, changing eating habits can prove to be challenging and many of us are unsure of which food alternatives to choose. In honor of American Heart Health Month, we’ve put together a power list of the right foods and dietary approaches that will help you take charge of your health and nurture a strong heart.
Take Charge of Your Health with a Healthy Diet
Eating a heart-healthy diet is something you can do today to make a difference. Take these simple steps for long term benefits.
- Know how many calories you should be eating and drinking to maintain a healthy weight based on your age, gender, and level of physical activity.
- Pay attention to your food portion sizes, as demonstrated by the American Heart Association.
FRUITS & VEGETABLES
- Eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned and dried) and make sure they are void of any high-calorie sauces or added salts and sugars.
- Think whole grains. Choose high-fiber cereals, breads and pastas made from whole grains.
- Eat less white or egg breads, sugary cereals and refined pastas.
- Eat high quality, lean protein such as fish and poultry (skinless is best).
- Aim to eat fish at least twice a week, especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, trout and herring).
- Limit your intake of red meat and if you do eat red meat, try to get the leanest cuts available.
- Reduce your intake of processed meats such as bacon, sausage, salami and fried chicken.
- Opt for low-fat (1%) or fat-free (skim) dairy products.
NUTS & LEGUMES
- Eat more nuts and legumes, as they are high in protein, minerals and fiber without the saturated fat found in some animal proteins.
- Adding beans to your diet will help you feel full longer and they can help improve blood cholesterol (a leading cause of heart disease).
- Remember to drain canned beans in a colander and rinse with water to remove any excess salt or if you can find it at your local grocery store, buy canned beans with no salt added.
SATURATED AND TRANS FATS
- Limit saturated and trans fats and replace them with healthier fats that are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
- If you need to lower your blood cholesterol, reduce saturated fat intake to no more than 5 to 6 percent of total calories. A 2,000 calorie per day diet, for example, would allow up to about 13 grams of saturated fat
- Cook with healthier oils that contain less saturated fat such as Canola, Corn, Olive, Peanut, Safflower, Soybean and Sunflower oil.
- Avoid cooking with tropical oils such as palm and coconut oil as well as butter, shortening, lard and hard stick margarine, as they all have a lot of saturated fat.
- Avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.
- Choose foods with less sodium and prepare foods with little or no salt.
- To lower blood pressure, strive to cap your sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day.
- Even reducing sodium intake by 1,000 mg per day can benefit blood pressure.
- Limit sweetened foods and beverages that contain added sugar as they contain zero nutrients, contribute to obesity and cause inflammation in the body.
- Major sources of added sugars include soft drinks, candy, cakes, cookies, donuts, pies and fruit drinks (including sports drinks); dairy desserts and milk products (ice cream, sweetened yogurt and sweetened milk); and other simple starches with added syrups (cinnamon toast and honey-nut waffles).
- The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily calorie allowance. For most women, that translates to 100 calories per day/ about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day/ about 9 teaspoons of sugar.
- If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. For women, this is the equivalent of one drink per day and if you’re a man, no more than two drinks per day.
Once you know the right foods to eat and those to avoid, you can begin the new journey of discovering new tasty meal options, and get creative in the kitchen! As you begin to follow a healthier dietary plan, you will experience renewed energy, have a stronger heart and body that work for you, and possess a fierce immunity you never knew you had.
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