Tips for a Healthy Heart

Many people think of Heart Disease as one diagnosis, but it actually describes a range of conditions which affect the heart. Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and obesity. The foods we put into our bodies can play a role in the development and prevention of heart disease. Lowering blood pressure, keeping cholesterol levels under control, maintaining a healthy weight, and participating in regular physical activity are a few ways to keep your heart healthy. By following these heart-healthy eating tips, you can decrease your risk factors for heart disease.

Reduce Sodium Intake. Over time, high blood pressure levels can put you at risk for heart disease and stroke. One way to lower your blood pressure is to reduce sodium intake. Sodium is an important mineral; however, too much sodium in your diet can raise blood pressure above the normal range. Most of us Americans consume too much sodium, which is a main component in packaged and processed foods like canned soups, frozen dinners, junk food, fast food, and many restaurant meals (especially from national chains) — all of which are loaded with salt. Limit your intake by reducing these unhealthy foods and avoiding the salt shaker at home.

Limit saturated fat and trans fat. High blood cholesterol is another risk factor for heart disease. Foods high in saturated and trans fat raise bad cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are mainly solid at room temperature and come from animal products like butter, bacon, sausage, and other fatty meats. Trans fats are made from hydrogenated oils and are found in shortening, some margarines, and baked goods.

Incorporate Healthy Fats and Fiber. In order to lower cholesterol and reduce overall risk of heart disease, we should incorporate healthy fats, called unsaturated fats, and fiber. Certain plant-based foods such as canola oil, walnuts, and flaxseeds are high in unsaturated fats. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring are also good sources of healthy fats. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fatty fish per week for heart-health benefits. Fiber helps trap dietary cholesterol in the GI tract, preventing it from being absorbed into the bloodstream, therefore lowering cholesterol levels. Foods high in soluble fiber include whole grains like oats and 100% whole-grain cereal; legumes such as lima beans, kidney beans, and lentils; and fruits such as apples, bananas, oranges, and pears.

Maintain a healthy body weight. Maintaining a healthy body weight is another way to reduce your risk of heart disease. To maintain a healthy weight, reduce your intake of high calorie foods like candy, sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, and fried foods. Focus on whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and healthy fats. Portion control is an important factor for weight management. Try following the plate method by filling ¼ of your plate with lean protein; ¼ with starch like rice, potatoes, corn, and pasta; and ½ of your plate with non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumber, green beans, and other non-starchy vegetables.

Stay physically active. Physical activity benefits your heart in several ways. First, exercise raises your HDL cholesterol, known as “good cholesterol.” Exercise has also been shown to lower blood pressure. In addition to a healthy eating plan, exercise can help you maintain a healthy bodyweight, which reduces our risk for obesity, another risk factor for heart disease. American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity in addition to strength training two days per week.

A healthy diet and lifestyle are important in the prevention and management of heart disease. Consuming a healthy eating pattern rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats is a great way to jumpstart your heart-healthy journey!

For more information or to schedule a nutrition consultation with a registered dietitian, contact Thibodaux Regional Wellness Education Center at 985.493.4765.