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Eating Heart Healthy For Life—Choosing The Right Foods To Support A Cardiac Diet

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Heart Healthy Foods

Maintaining a healthy heart can be challenging for many Americans, as a sedentary lifestyle becomes more and more the norm, and weight remains an issue for more than two-thirds of the population. While most of us know that diet and exercise can be directly linked to a healthy heart, many of us still make unhealthy food choices every day. That’s not surprising, considering the number of fast food restaurants in the U.S. has doubled since the 1970’s, and more than 78 million adults are considered obese. By the year 2030, that number is expected to grow, when 50% of all adults are projected to be obese.[1]

The Heart Healthy Connection To Diet

The typical American diet fails to support a healthy heart in a myriad of ways, as we exceed daily intake levels of added sugars, refined grains, sodium, and saturated fats. Most individuals do not get the recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, dairy products, and oils, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well.[1]

Too much cholesterol in the blood, caused by poor diet, can put individuals at risk for coronary artery disease. The higher the levels of LDL (low-density lipoproteins), the greater the risk of plaque build up inside the coronary arteries, creating what is known as, atherosclerosis. This can narrow the arterial passages, decreasing the amount of blood flow through the heart. Plaque can also break off, blocking an artery altogether, causing a heart attack.[7]

How To Have A Healthy Heart

Heart Healthy Food—A Heart Diet For Life

Diet is one of the most important factors affecting the health of the heart, and one of the variables in the prevention of heart disease that individuals can control.

A healthy heart diet includes the following heart foods:

  • High fiber foods such as, fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts
  • Oily fish including salmon, trout, and mackerel, high in Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Omega-6 fatty acids such as vegetable oils, sunflower, safflower, corn, and soybean oils, along with nuts and seeds[3].

Eating Healthy Tips—What To Avoid For a Healthy Heart

In addition to increasing the intake of foods high in fiber and the omega acids, the American Heart Association recommends limiting:

  • Saturated fats
  • Trans fat
  • Sodium
  • Red meat
  • Sugar
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Any food high in calories, low in nutrients
  • Dairy high in fat
  • Foods high in sodium/adding salt to foods during or after preparation
  • Alcohol consumption/no more than 2 drinks per day for men/1 drink per day for women[6]

Heart Healthy Snacks, Part of a Heart Healthy Diet

Replacing junk food with heart healthy snacks is one way to contribute to cutting down on unhealthy sugar and fat laden snacks that raise cholesterol and triglyceride levels, contributing to the formation of plaque in the arteries.

Heart healthy snacks include:

  • Fat-free or low-fat yogurt topped with sliced apples, berries, bananas, or whole grain cereal
  • Whole-grain crackers topped with low-fat or nonfat cheese
  • Whole-wheat pita pocket sandwich filled with hummus, lettuce, tomato, and cucumber
  • Fat-free popcorn
  • Toasted whole-grain tortilla, topped with low-fat or fat free cheese, sliced peppers and mushrooms
  • Fat-free chocolate milk blended with banana or strawberries and ice to create a smoothie[2]

Healthy Eating Habits For Healthy Living

Eating healthy includes cooking with fresh, whole ingredients, prepared with low fat substitutions and clean cooking methods.

Healthy heart habits for healthy nutrition include:

  • Baking, broiling, boiling, grilling, or microwaving instead of frying
  • Removing skin from poultry prior to preparation
  • Cooling gravies and soups before reheating, and skimming off fat before eating
  • Choosing low-fat or fat-free options for salad dressings, mayonnaise, or dairy products[2]

Mediterranean Diet, Healthy Eating With Nutritious Foods

The Mediterranean diet incorporates a heart healthy eating plan that embraces the cooking styles and ingredients from countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.
Many of the meals and snacks eaten in this region of the world provide healthy nutrition through fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and oils such as, olive oil, associated with low cholesterol, and healthier fats, that don’t produce artery clogging plaque.

Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet, Not Just a Balanced Diet

A wide body of research indicates that a diet rich in foods prepared in the Mediterranean region has been associated with a lower incidence of heart disease, cardiovascular mortality, and overall mortality as well. Beyond heart health, this type of eating has also been linked to a lower rate of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Women who ate a heart health Mediterranean diet and supplemented with mixed nuts and extra-virgin olive oil may also have a lower incidence of breast cancer as well.

Because of this, many health organizations worldwide promote the Mediterranean diet for the prevention of major disease, including heart disease.

Mediterranean Diet, The Heart Healthy Diet Plan

The Mediterranean diet, also helpful as a heart disease diet incorporates the following for heart healthy meals:

  • Eating plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Cooking with, and eating only healthy fats including olive oil and canola oil
  • Adding flavor to foods with herbs and spices, rather than salt
  • Decreasing intake of red meat to a few times per month
  • Consuming fish and poultry two times per week
  • Eating meals with family and friends
  • Consuming red wine moderately (optional)
  • Exercising regularly[4]

Adopt a Heart Healthy Diet Plan

While heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, many Americans still consume an unhealthy diet, high in calories, sugar and fat. This can lead to the narrowing of arteries, or a life-threatening heart attack if arteries become blocked by dangerous plaque, built up over time that breaks away. By getting healthy nutrition from a balanced diet, preventing heart disease may be possible for many individuals.


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