Heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans. While risk factors such as age, race, and heredity are beyond your control, research shows a proven link between a healthy diet and a healthy heart—and you can do something about that. Follow these guidelines, and remember that even small changes can result in big cardiovascular benefits:
1.Read food labels to determine important information including serving size, servings per container, calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar content.
2.Be sure that you’re getting plenty of healthy foods. Experts recommend the following portions:
- 4 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables a day. Incorporate produce into every meal, as well as snacks, and strive for a wide range of colorful produce from oranges to green beans.
- 2 (3 ½-ounce) serving of fish a week. Choose fish rich in heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon or mackerel.
- 3 (1-ounce) servings of whole grains a day. When eating foods such as cereal, bread, or pasta, choose whole grain varieties at least half of the time.
- 4 servings of nuts, legumes, or seeds a week. Reach for these foods to add interest to meals or as pick-me-up snacks.
3.Limit your intake of substances that are harmful to your heart, like these:
- Sodium (less than 1,500 mg a day): Research has linked diets high in sodium to an increase in blood pressure and a greater risk for heart attack and stroke.
- Processed meats, such as bologna or hot dogs (no more than 2 servings a week): These products tend to be high in fat, cholesterol, and sodium.
- Saturated fat (less than 7% of total calories): Check food labels for fat content.
4.Choose “choice” or “select” grades of beef, and look at labels for words like “loin” or “round” to help select lean cuts of meat. These cuts tend to be leaner. Also remember that white meat is less fatty than dark meat.
5.Use healthy cooking techniques such as broiling or grilling instead of frying. When you sauté foods, use olive oil or another plant-based oil, instead of butter or margarine.
6.Reach for fresh or dried herbs to season foods instead of flavoring dishes with heavy sauces. Herbs like rosemary, oregano, cumin, cayenne, and garlic all add excellent flavor—without adding fat or sodium. Check the labels on pre-blended seasoning mixes; these often contain lots of salt.
7.Practice healthy snacking to help curb hunger between meals and get necessary nutrition. Keep carrot sticks in the fridge, or make homemade granola for the family each week.
8.Don’t deny yourself favorite foods. Instead enjoy what you love in moderation and within the context of a healthy diet.
9.Look for low-fat, low-cholesterol, and trans fat-free options on restaurant menus, and keep portion control in mind.
10.Drink no more than 450 calories of sugar-sweetened sodas, juices, energy drinks and other beverages a week. Remember that water is an effective and calorie-free thirst quencher.
For more information about cardiovascular health, contact the Lawnwood Heart Institute. For medical questions or a physician referral, call Consult-A-Nurse® at 1-800-382-3522. This free service is available 24 hours a day.
American Heart Association Nutrition Center
USDA Food and Nutrition Information Center