Although you surely know that certain foods can increase the risk of heart disease, it is often difficult to change eating habits. Whether you have been eating unhealthy for several years or just want to adjust your diet, here are eight tips for following a heart-healthy diet.
1. How much you eat is as important as what you eat. If you overload the plate, eat very quickly and do not stop until you feel full, you probably consume more calories than you should.
Eat larger portions of low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and smaller portions of high-calorie and sodium foods, such as fast, refined or processed foods.
2. Vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamins and minerals. Vegetables and fruits are also low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. Eating more fruits and vegetables can help reduce the consumption of foods with more calories, such as meat, cheese and snacks.
Incorporating vegetables and fruits into your diet can be easy. Keep vegetables washed and cut in the refrigerator to eat them as quick snacks. Place the fruits in a container in the kitchen so you remember to eat them. Choose recipes that have vegetables or fruits as main ingredients, for example, fresh fruits mixed in salads.
3. Whole grains are a good source of fiber and other nutrients that play an important role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. To increase the amount of whole grains in a heart-healthy diet, substitute refined grain products.
4. Limiting the amount of saturated fat and trans fat is an important step in reducing your blood cholesterol and decreasing your risk of coronary artery disease. A high blood cholesterol level can cause a buildup of platelets in the arteries, called “atherosclerosis,” which can increase your risk of having a heart attack and stroke.
You can reduce the amount of saturated fats in your diet by removing the fat from the meat or by choosing lean meats with less than 10 percent fat. Also, you can add less butter, margarine and fat when cooking and serving.
You can also use low-fat substitutes when possible, to eat a heart-healthy diet. For example, season baked potatoes with low-sodium sauce or low-fat yogurt instead of butter, or use whole sliced fruit or a spread of low-sugar fruit on toast instead of margarine.
It is also recommended that you check the information labels of some cookies, cakes, icings, water cookies and chips. Many of these foods – even those that say “with reduced fat content” – can be made with oils that contain trans fat. An indication that a food contains some trans fat is the use of the phrase “partially hydrogenated” in the list of ingredients.
5. Lean meats, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products and eggs are the best sources of protein. But pay attention and choose options with less fat, such as skim milk instead of whole milk and skinless chicken breasts instead of fried chicken burgers.
Fish is another excellent alternative to replace high-fat meats. And certain types of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce blood fats called “triglycerides.” The fish with the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids are those with cold water, such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Other sources are flax seeds, nuts, soybeans and canola oil.
Legumes (beans, peas and lentils) are also good sources of protein, contain less fat and no cholesterol, so they are good substitutes for meat. By replacing animal proteins with plant proteins, you will reduce your intake of fat and cholesterol, and increase your fiber intake.
6. Eating a lot of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Reducing sodium intake is an important part of a heart-healthy diet.
While adding less salt to food when it is already served or while cooking it is a good first step, most of the salt you consume comes from canned or processed foods, such as soups, baked goods and frozen foods. Choosing fresh foods and preparing soups and stews yourself are measures that can help you reduce the amount of salt you consume.
Be careful with foods that indicate lower sodium content, as they are seasoned with sea salt instead of common table salt, and sea salt has the same nutritional value as common salt.
7. You know what foods you should include in a heart-healthy diet and which ones you should avoid. Now it’s time to take your plan to practice.
Create daily menus using the six strategies indicated above. By choosing foods for each meal and snack, you prefer vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Choose lean protein sources and healthy fats, and avoid salty foods. Monitor portion sizes and add variety to your menu options.
8. A candy bar or a handful of fries will not derail your heart-healthy diet. But do not let it become an excuse to abandon your healthy eating plan. The important thing is that you eat healthy foods most of the time.
Incorporate these eight tips into your life, and you will discover that healthy eating for the heart is something that can be done and enjoyed. With a little planning and a few simple replacements, you can eat with your heart in mind.