Updated: Jul 11, 2022
In celebration of American Heart Health Month here is a review of a heart healthy diet.
Why is being heart healthy important?
Simply put, “heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States” (Source - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Not all heart disease is preventable but modifying your diet and lifestyle to be “heart healthy” can significantly reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
“Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States.” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What is a heart healthy diet?
A heart healthy diet focuses on whole foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Using the whole foods approach naturally reduces your intake of processed foods that are high in sodium, added sugar, saturated fats and trans fats - all of which negatively affect your heart health. Let's look at foods to include and foods to limit as part of a heart healthy diet.
Fruits and vegetables. Eating a rainbow can help ensure you maximize your vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient intake. Not only can that help support your immune system but it can also improve cardiovascular health by reducing inflammation.
Whole grains. Whole grains are higher in fiber and have beneficial micronutrients that are missing in refined grains. Higher fiber helps lower cholesterol and keep our digestive tract healthy.
Omega 3 Fatty acids. Omega 3’s are great for reducing inflammation, lowering LDL-cholesterol and increasing HDL – cholesterol which benefits heart health. You can find omega 3’s in fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, cod liver oil) and some plant sources too (flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts). Omega 3 supplements are also available.
Unsalted nuts and legumes. Nuts and legumes are a great plant based protein and have fatty acids that are beneficial for reducing inflammation and lowering cholesterol. Legumes are also full of fiber which is an added plus for your digestive system!
Low-fat, fat free dairy and lean animal protein or plant-based proteins. Animal products such as milk and meats and some plant foods like coconut and palm oils are high in saturated fat. Saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol in your blood. This increases the risk for coronary artery disease. Therefore, using lean proteins, lower fat or nonfat dairy can reduce your saturated fat intake. Decreasing saturated fats can be the foundation for a heart healthy diet.
Dark Chocolate. Dark chocolate is rich in heart healthy flavonoids and antioxidants. So don't forget the dark chocolate this month!
Trans Fats. Trans fats can likely be labeled the worst fats in terms of health. Trans fats, like saturated fats, can increase LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) which builds up in your arteries. This buildup causes atherosclerosis (the hardening and narrowing of your arteries), decreasing blood flow. Trans fats are commonly found in fast, fried and processed foods, baked goods and partially hydrogenated oils (vegetable shortening, certain margarines and vegetable oils).
Sodium. Too much sodium in your diet can increase water retention in your body, putting pressure on your kidneys, heart and blood vessels. Over time this can lead to high blood pressure which increases risk for heart disease. The big culprits of high sodium are processed and packaged foods. Making homemade foods can reduce this. See below for a note about nutrition labels!
Note: Be sure to check your nutrition label! Saturated fats, trans fats, fiber, added sugar and sodium are all listed on the nutrition label of any packaged food. Comparing the labels can help you make the best choices when it comes to packaged foods.
Being heart healthy isn’t just a diet, it's a way of living
Sleep: Adults aged 18+ should get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep every night.
Physical activity: Adults aged 18+ should aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity a week and strength-based workouts at least twice a week. Always consult your physician prior to starting a new workout program or routine.
Manage stress: Stress can modify your metabolism and is linked to eating patterns that cause heart disease. Managing your stress can break the cycle of eating to manage emotions and have a positive effect on your heart health.
Quit the stick: Smokers are 2 times more likely to have stroke than the non-smoker. Smoking also damages blood vessels, reduces blood flow from the heart, causes increased blood pressure and heart rate.
Seeing a dietitian to start your journey today could make a great impact on your heart health. Book a 15 minute free consultation to see how we could work together!
Cecilia Hagen-Revelins, R.D.N., C.D.N.