Eat a heart-healthy diet

December 2012

Healthy heart starts with a healthy diet

As much as you might want to eat a healthy diet, it can sometimes be confusing to figure out what you should and shouldn’t eat. Are all fats bad for you? Is all meat bad? And do you need to completely change your diet if you want to be healthy?

The good news is that eating a heart-healthy diet isn’t too difficult if you know some basics of healthy eating. When thinking about what changes you need to make in your eating habits for a healthy heart, keep in mind the following tips.

Get lots of fruits and vegetables into your diet

Fruits and veggies are full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. And they’re naturally low in calories. When you include lots of fruits and veggies in your diet, you’re more likely to stay at a healthy weight and more likely to have a healthy blood pressure level.

To make snacking on healthy produce easier, keep washed and cut veggies and fruit in the fridge. Put some fruits such as apples, bananas, and oranges in a bowl and leave it on the counter.

Eat fatty fish

Yes, you read that right. Fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, herring, and sardines, are good for the heart. These fish may help lower your risk of death from coronary artery disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Try to include them in your meals at least twice a week.

Eat whole grains

Skip the white flour and choose bread, pasta, cereal, and other products made with whole grains instead. Whole grains are full of fiber and other nutrients that help regulate blood pressure and have been shown to be good for the heart. Plus, extra fiber can help you feel more full, which can help you prevent overeating and maintain a healthy weight.

Include some nuts, legumes, and seeds

Like fatty fish, nuts such as almonds and walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Plus they’re good sources of protein. You can also get lots of protein from legumes like lentils and beans, which have less fat and no cholesterol. Also get fiber and omega-3 fatty acids from flax seeds, which you can grind up and add to smoothies or sprinkle over lowfat yogurt.

Choose lowfat dairy

Milk, cheese, and yogurt may be good for your bones but be sure to choose lowfat versions to reduce the amount of fat and cholesterol you’re eating.

Eat lowfat meats

Try to eat less meat, and when you do, be sure to go lean cuts like skinless poultry. How you cook meat also matters. Use small amounts of olive or canola oils, which are unsaturated fats (and are better for the heart). And pay attention to portions: One serving of meat is about the size of a deck or cards, or 3 ounces.

Cut back on the salt

Eating a lot of sodium can raise your blood pressure, which can put you at risk for heart disease. The AHA recommends limiting sodium to 1,500 milligrams or less a day. Try to cook with less salt. Also limit the amount of processed or canned foods, which are usually chock full of salt. Try to choose lowfat condiments, like reduced sodium soy sauce, whenever possible.

Limit unhealthy fats

Knowing what to eat for a healthy heart is easy if you what to do - and not do.

What are unhealthy fats? They are those solid fats — butter, margarine, shortening — that are often used in cooking and baking. Try to use less of these fats when cooking, and be sure to read labels carefully. Something may be labeled “low fat” but contain hydrogenated oils, which are bad for the heart.

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