Heart Healthy Diet
By Mackenzie Distad, EP-C, BS
ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist/Exercise Specialist
Living a healthy lifestyle is the best way you can prevent or fight cardiovascular disease. Important components of a healthy lifestyle include regular exercise and physical activity, as well as eating a heart healthy diet. What you eat can increase or decrease your risk of heart disease. But which foods are good and how do you get started? It can be tough to change all of your eating habits at once so here are a few ideas to move you towards a more heart healthy diet.
Look at portion sizes
The amount of food you eat is just as important as the types of food you are eating. Have you seen the huge portion sizes served in restaurants!?! Meal portions are growing the in US, so it is important to examine how much you are consuming at mealtime. Try using a smaller dinner plate or bowl at home. If you eat out at a restaurant, box a portion of your meal up right away to take home. Try to practice mindful eating: Do not eat until you feel stuffed or very full; try to eat until you are satisfied and save the rest for later. It is also important to read food labels at the grocery store. Keep an eye on the portion sizes described on the nutrition facts panels.
Eat more fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetable are great sources of vitamins and minerals, are low in calories and high in dietary fiber. Eating more healthy fruits and vegetables can help to prevent cardiovascular disease and may help you avoid eating high-fat foods. Introducing or increasing vegetables and fruits in your daily diet can be easy: Keep them washed and cut in the fridge so they are easy to grab as a quick snack throughout the day. You can also mix them into meals, like in a stir fry, or use them as a side.
Try to make your grains whole grains. Whole grains are full of fiber and other nutrients that help to control blood pressure. Things to look for include whole-wheat flour, whole-grain bread, brown rice, whole-grain pasta and oatmeal. It is important to read the food labels with some of these foods. For example; when purchasing bread, make sure the first ingredient is whole grain or whole wheat flour – not enriched or refined flours. Starting to introduce these whole grains to your diet will help you to be living more heart healthy.
Limit unhealthy fats
Try to cut down on the amount of saturated and trans fats in order to lower your levels of bad cholesterol. High levels of bad cholesterol in your blood can lead to a buildup of plaques in the arteries – increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke. When you do use fats in cooking, etc., choose monounsaturated fats like olive oil or canola oil. Polyunsaturated fats are also good choices for a heart healthy diet. These can be found in certain fish, avocados, nuts and seeds. It is important to remember moderation with all fats though. All types are still high in calories.
ExercisAbilities has an in-house Dietician who can provide one-on-one Nutrition Counseling.
Choose low-fat protein sources
Try to stick to consuming lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, and eggs. There is also protein in foods like legumes (beans, peas and lentils), soybeans and tofu that are low in fat. These are plant proteins that are lower in fat and bad cholesterol than animal proteins.
Reduce sodium consumption
Eating a lot of sodium can have a large impact on your blood pressure – a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults have no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day (about a teaspoon). The easiest way to start reducing the amount of sodium you consume is to look at the food labels and reduce the amount of restaurant food you eat. The largest contributors to sodium in our diets is not what we add at the table, but is the sodium in restaurant and processed/pre-packaged foods.
Allow yourself an occasional treat
Allow yourself a treat every once in a while! A candy bar or a few potato chips won’t ruin your heart healthy eating efforts. Enjoy your special occasion dinners with family or friends – but don’t let it turn into a regular occurrence. If you start to incorporate these changes in your eating habits, you will find that eating a heart healthy diet is reasonable and can still be enjoyable.
LEARN TO BE FIT – Exercise and Diet Program
ExercisAbilities knows healthy eating is quite the change for some. That’s why we continue to offer our Learn To Be Fit program. This year long program combines counsel on proper diet, peer support, accountability and exercise. It’s a great way to make a healthy lifestyle change. Check out the next Learn to Be Fit class on our webpage and get registered today!
For more information on heart health and heart healthy eating, check out the American Heart Association’s website www.heart.org or www.mayoclinic.org.