As heart disease remains the leading killer of Americans, you and I can both combat this disease by following a few of these nutrition tips for a healthy heart. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 600,000 people in the US die of heart disease every year; that's one in every four deaths! A number far too large if you ask me. But instead of focusing on the negative statistics, I want to focus on the positive and share a few things that you can do in order to kick heart disease to the curb! Try one or all of these nutrition tips for a healthy heart today.
1. Limit Saturated Fat
When it comes to nutrition, did you know that there are several things that we can do in order to improve the health of our heart? One of my first nutrition tips for a healthy heart is to limit saturated fat. Saturated fat is the unhealthy fat that is found mostly in animal products. Foods like butter, full-fat/low-fat dairy and meats all contain saturated fat. This type of fat builds up in your arteries and blocks the proper flow of blood throughout your body, while increasing your bad cholesterol (LDL) too. Instead of choosing foods with saturated fat, choose foods with healthy fats like olive oil, fat-free dairy, lean meats, nuts and seeds. Even better, opt for a vegetarian meal like a black bean burger every now and then!
2. Increase Fiber
Dietary fiber is found in foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes and is responsible for aiding in the elimination of the things that your body doesn't need. Since your body cannot break down fiber, fiber moves through our digestive system and helps trap and carry out fat particles, toxins, and waste. Be sure to drink plenty of water as you increase your fiber intake in order to keep things flowing throughout your body!
3. Portion Size
Eating the correct portion size is important for quite a few reasons. First, by eating just enough to fuel your body, you will help prevent weight gain which is very taxing on your heart. For me, it's easiest to control my portion sizes when I actually take the time to prepare, sit down and enjoy my meals. I also check labels often, which can be pretty shocking to find out just how small one portion can actually be. For more tips on learning what a healthy portion size is, check out my site, The Gypsy Dietitian (ashleyharperevans.com) for an entire article on proper portion sizes!
4. Increase Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and veggies are not only high in dietary fiber, but they are also very high in heart healthy vitamins, minerals, phynonutrients and antioxidants. Both are low in calories and provide your body what it needs to stay healthy. One of my favorite ways to sneak in extra fruits and veggies is to start my day with a green smoothie. Another way to load up on the fruits and veggies is to add them to dishes like soups, spaghetti sauce, turkey-loaf, salads and even dairy-free ice cream! Most of the time you won't even realize that they are there!
5. Eliminate Trans Fats
Most trans fats are man-made fats that are found in processed foods like cakes, pies, pastries, crackers, cookies, chips and more. Trans fats are extremely dangerous fats that not only increase your bad cholesterol (LDL), but they decrease your good cholesterol (HDL) too - a double whammy! Be sure to check your food labels to see if any of your favorite foods contain trans fats. Did you know that the US is even considering banning trans fats because they are so dangerous! It's scary to think that we have been eating them for all of this time!
6. Reduce Sodium
Inside of your body, sodium acts as a sponge, soaking up fluids, causing your blood to have to pump harder to move efficiently throughout your body, causing your blood pressure to rise. One teaspoon of salt contains approximate 2,300-2,400 mg of sodium, which is the maximum amount of sodium a healthy person should have per day. For those older than 51, African-Americans and those previously diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, the maximum amount of sodium per day should be less than 1,500 mg. The easiest way to reduce sodium in the diet is to minimize the amount of high-sodium foods like canned soup, processed foods and TV dinners from your diet. Always choose fresh foods instead and nix the salt shaker whenever possible!
7. Reduce Added Sugar
When it comes to heart disease, many people think that it's all about the added fat and that it has very little to do with sugar. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Excess sugar has been known to increase blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides (fat particles found in your blood), all of which are damaging to your heart. Along with that, excess sugar is also known to lead to weight gain, yet another issue when it comes to heart health. Reach for a sparkling water instead of soda, fruit instead of high sugar desserts and a piece of dark chocolate instead of a candy bar and your heart will certainly thank you!
As you can see, the foods that you eat can directly effect the health of your heart. Join me in the fight against heart disease by following a few of the above nutrition tips for a healthy heart. What do you do to keep your heart healthy?