What is Heart-Healthy Eating?
Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the U.S. The rates of heart disease are even higher among people with disabilities. Therefore, taking care of your heart needs to be one of your top priorities. Heart-healthy eating involves more than just limiting fat and eating more vegetables. The following are the best ways that you can ensure you are eating well for your heart - and your health.
Limit Saturated and Trans Fat
Saturated fat is found in high-fat animal products, such as cheese, ice cream, and red meat. This type of fat raises LDL, or "bad," cholesterol. Trans fat, typically listed on food labels as "partially hydrogenated oil," is found in many foods, such as baked goods and snack foods. Trans fat raises LDL cholesterol and lowers HDL, or "good" cholesterol. High cholesterol may lead to hardening of the arteries and heart disease.
Increase "Good" Fats
Simply limiting the "bad" fats is not enough. It is also vital to include heart-healthy fats in your diet. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats positively affect cholesterol, and actually help prevent the buildup of plaque in the arteries. The best sources of polyunsaturated fats are nuts and seeds. Rich sources of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, avocados, and canola oil.
Omega 3 fatty acids are an especially important type of polyunsaturated fat, and they are critical to heart health. Research has shown that omega 3 fats decrease the risk of arrhythmias, which can lead to sudden cardiac death, decrease triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, and reduce the buildup of plaque on artery walls. The best sources of omega 3 fats are salmon, trout, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and walnut oil.
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are packed full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They also contain important phytochemicals that have been linked to lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. It is important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to get the maximum health benefits. Opt for fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables over canned. Be sure that fruit doesn't contain added sugar, and vegetables don't contain added salt.
Choose Lean Protein Sources
To limit saturated fat and cholesterol, it is important to choose lean protein sources. Some optimal choices are skinless chicken and turkey; skim milk, low-fat or fat-free yogurt, and fish. Non-animal protein sources, such as tofu and legumes, are also great choices since they contain no saturated fat or cholesterol.
Consume Whole Grains
Whole grains are an excellent source of fiber, and have been shown to help regulate blood pressure and lead to an overall lower risk of heart disease. Some of the best sources of whole grains are whole whole-grain bread, whole-grain or whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-grain cereals. When shopping, be sure to look for bread that contains at least 3 grams of fiber per slice, and cereals that contain at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.
A diet high in salt can contribute to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease. Aim to consume no more than ~1,500mg of sodium per day. Salt is a hidden ingredient in many foods, especially processed foods, so make sure to read food labels carefully. In addition, remove the salt shaker from the table and experiment with salt-free seasonings when cooking.