Eat your heart out: tips for heart-healthy eating

Fruits, vegetables and grains on heart-shaped plates

Love is in the air, making it the perfect time to talk about heart health! It matters to both you and your sweetheart: heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

You have a higher risk of heart disease if you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes or an unhealthy diet. Doctors recommend a nutritious diet, along with physical activity and not smoking, to help prevent heart disease.

What does a heart-healthy diet look like?

A heart-healthy diet focuses on choices that lower blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol. Many experts point to the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. It can help lower your blood pressure and reduce your chance of a heart attack or stroke. Here are a few simple ways to get started:

So long, salt!

It can help lower your blood pressure if you avoid foods with more than 300 mg of sodium per serving. How do you do that? By reading labels carefully.

Packages that say “salt-free/sodium-free,” “very low sodium” or “low sodium” have less than 140 mg of salt per serving. But labels claiming “no salt added,” “unsalted” or “reduced sodium” may contain higher amounts than you think. Eating canned vegetables? Drain and rinse them under water before eating.

Go for lean meats and low-fat dairy products.

You want to cut saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are the kind found in animal products, such as beef, lamb, pork, cream, butter, cheese and other meat and dairy products. Trans fats are in many fried foods and baked goods. On the other hand, unsaturated fats, like those in avocado, nuts and fish, can help lower cholesterol.

Cut down on added sugars.

Candy and soda are loaded with them. So are lots of foods – even ones you’d be surprised about.  Read labels! They won’t always say, “sugar,” either.  Sometimes added sugar is hiding in other names, like fructose, sucrose, maltose and fruit juice.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that most American women limit added sugars to no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For most men, they recommend no more than 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons.

Natural sugars from fruit and vegetables are a much better option. Plus, those foods contain other “good-for-you” stuff, like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Choose whole grains instead of refined grains.

Whole grains have added fiber without added sugar. These are foods like brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat bread and other unprocessed grains. They help you feel full longer.

White rice, processed cereals and other refined grains are missing key nutrients and fiber. That’s why you get hungry faster. Again, it pays to read labels.

Eat the colors of the rainbow.

Choose colorful fruits and vegetables to get a variety of important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Antioxidants may play a role in preventing heart disease, cancer and other diseases.

Flavor tip!

Losing salt and sugar doesn’t mean you’re stuck with bland food! Lemon, vinegar, fresh herbs or a sodium-free seasoning blend are great ways to pack in the flavor without hurting your heart.

Want to learn more? Check out heart-health resources from these organizations:

Sources: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm, https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/your-heart/know-your-risks/heart-attack-risk-factors