A Heart-Healthy Diet

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While you probably know that eating certain foods may increase your risk of heart disease, changing your eating habits can often be difficult. Whether you've been eating unhealthily for years or just want to tweak your diet, here are 5 heart-healthy eating tips. Once you know which foods to eat more of and which to limit, you'll be on your way to a heart-healthy diet. 

1. Control food intake

How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Loading your plate too slowly, ordering another after you finish a meal, and eating until you feel full can lead to excess calorie intake. The food served in restaurants is often more than anyone needs.

Following some simple tips for portion control can help you improve your diet as well as your heart condition and waist size:

  • Serve your meal on a small plate or bowl to control your portion size.
  • Eat plenty of low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits and vegetables
  • Eat fewer high-calorie, high-sodium foods, such as refined, processed, or fast foods.
  • It is also important to keep track of the number of servings eaten.


2. Eat more fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. Like other plants or plant-based foods, fruits and vegetables contain substances that may protect against cardiovascular disease. Eating more fruits and vegetables can help reduce your intake of high-calorie foods like meat, cheese, and snacks.

A fruit and vegetable based diet is easy to achieve. Wash and chop veggies and keep them in the fridge for quick and easy snacks. Fruit should be placed in a bowl in the kitchen before you remember to eat it. Choose recipes with vegetables or fruit as the main ingredients, such as stir-fried vegetables or fresh fruit salads.


3. Choose Whole Grains

Whole grains are a good source of fiber and other nutrients that play an important role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. In a heart-healthy diet, you can boost the whole grain content of your meals simply by replacing refined grain products with whole grains. Or be bold and try new whole grain varieties like whole grain farro, quinoa or barley.


4. Choose Low-Fat Protein Sources

Lean meats, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy and eggs are good sources of protein. Choose foods that are lower in fat, such as choosing skinless chicken breasts instead of chicken patties and skim milk instead of whole milk.

Fish is a good alternative to fatty meats. Certain fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower blood fats called triglycerides. You'll find the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Other sources include flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans, and canola oil.

Legumes (all types of dried beans, peas, and lentils) are also a good source of low-fat protein and are cholesterol-free, making them a good alternative to meat. Substituting plant protein for animal protein, such as soybean or soy hamburgers instead of regular hamburgers, can reduce fat and cholesterol intake and increase fiber intake.


5. Limit or reduce salt (sodium) intake

Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. Reducing salt (sodium) intake is an important part of a heart-healthy diet. The American Heart Association recommends:

  • Healthy adults limit sodium intake to no more than 2300 mg per day (about one teaspoon of salt)
  • The ideal daily sodium intake for most adults is no more than 1500 mg
  • Reducing the amount of salt you add to your meals at mealtimes or reducing the amount of salt you cook with is a good place to start; however, most of the salt you eat comes from canned or processed foods, such as soups, baked goods, and frozen dinners. Eating fresh foods and making your own soups and stews can reduce your salt intake.

If you like the convenience of canned soups and deli meals, look for products with no added salt or low sodium. Be wary of foods that claim to be lower in sodium because they're flavored with sea salt instead of regular table salt, which has the same nutritional value.

Another way to reduce your salt intake is to choose condiments carefully. Many condiments are available in low-sodium versions. Salt substitutes can reduce sodium levels while adding flavor to foods.

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