Heart disease is the leading cause of death and hospitalization for adults in the US, but it doesn’t have to be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 34 percent of cardiac related premature deaths were preventable. You can avoid many of the major risks associated with heart disease by reducing trans fats, saturated fats and cholesterol from your plate. The best part? You don’t have to measure everything you eat to accomplish this.
We recommend a balanced heart-friendly diet filled with superfoods low on sodium, fresh produce, omega-3 fatty acids, and whole grains to give your heart the right nutrients, fiber, and healthy fats needed to keep you healthy. Start improving your well-being by adding these heart-friendly foods to your daily meals.
1. Catch omega-3 fatty acids
Eating fish rich with omega-3 fatty acids decreases the risk of arrhythmias, triglyceride levels, slows the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, and lowers blood pressure. Research also indicates eating salmon three times a week lowers diastolic blood pressure. High blood pressure is a key contributor to heart disease, but adding a few ounces of cooked fish or seafood can decrease hypertension.
Pregnant women and children are recommended to avoid eating fish (swordfish, king mackerel, or shark) contaminated with high levels of mercury. However, choosing a variety of fresh water fish like salmon will mitigate mercury consumption that causes adverse effects. Adding two to three servings of fresh water fish like salmon and mackerel to your weekly meal plan is safe. Try an assortment of these fish to your weekly meals to work towards improving your heart health,
- Lake Trout
Don’t like fish? You can also consult with your doctor about trying fish oil supplements. These supplements are shown to improve arterial function and decrease blood pressure, but anything above three grams of omega-3 fatty acids should be discussed with your doctor.
2. Add fresh fruits and vegetables to your plate
Pack your plate with color! Fruits and vegetables offer the vitamins needed to beat heart disease. Leafy greens like spinach and kale contain ascorbic acids (Vitamin C) and potassium (Vitamin K), both of which lower your risk of heart disease. Blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries are also rich with antioxidants that will protect your heart from illnesses. Packaged vegetables are loaded with salts and sugars, so choose low-sodium and non-syrup-packed frozen produce and canned vegetables when buying convenient options.
You’ll want to consume five servings of vegetables and four servings of fruit a day to improve your heart’s well-being. Increasing your daily servings of fruits and vegetables will also help you combat most risks associated with heart disease. Here are a few ways to add fruits and vegetables to your daily meal plan:
- 1 cup of leafy greens (kale or spinach)
- 1/2 cup cut-up vegetables (cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots)
- 1/2 cup beans or peas
- 1/2 cup fruit (blackberries, strawberries, blueberries)
- 1/4 cup 100% fruit juice
3. Avoid half measures with whole grains
Whole grains are loaded with dietary fibers that improve your blood cholesterol levels, helping you maintain healthy blood pressure, and lowering your chances of heart disease. Whole grains also contain thiamin (Vitamin B1), riboflavin (Vitamin B2), niacin (Vitamin B3), folate (Vitamin B9), iron, magnesium and selenium as well.
The American Heart Association suggests that half of grains should come from whole grains. Adding brown rice, barley, whole grain bread, oatmeal, or other whole grains will improve your overall cardiac health. Studies also suggests that adding more whole grains to your plate reduces blood pressure and lowers the risk of heart disease by more than 22 percent.
Here are a few easy ways to add the recommended amount of whole grains to your daily diet:
- 1 slice whole-grain bread
- 1 cup ready-to-eat, whole-grain cereal
- 1/2 cup cooked whole-grain cereal, brown rice, or whole-wheat pasta
- 5 whole-grain crackers
- 3 cups unsalted, air-popped popcorn
4. Embrace low-sodium foods
In general, reducing your sodium intake can protect you against heart disease. When possible, opt for natural, whole foods, over processed ones. Try to find low-sodium options if you’re having trouble cutting out salty crackers, flavorful condiments, and canned soups. Give homemade meals a burst of flavor with extra herbs and spices, rather than adding more salt.
The American Heart Association says you should shoot for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. That’s about a teaspoon of salt. Here’s a list of sodium rich foods you should reduce to decrease your daily sodium intake:
- Breads and Rolls
- Cold Cuts and Cured Meats
- Canned soup
5. Snacks that make you feel good
The desire to sneak an unhealthy snack is hard to shake, but there are plenty of healthy substitutes for your favorite treats out there. Substitute sugary sodas for flavored, unsweetened sparkling water. Try crunching on whole-grain crackers with salmon dip instead of chips. Fruit is also a natural option that will satisfy even your sweetest cravings. Try one of these options the next time you’re looking for something more heart-friendly to snack on:
- Sparkling water
- Low-sodium tomato juice
- Fruit and veggie smoothies
- Whole grain crackers with salmon
- Apples with peanut butter
6. Think portions
Heart disease is linked to obesity. However, sticking to small lifestyle changes is healthier than choosing short-term solutions that heavily restrict what you eat. In fact, a study by the American Heart Association found that yo-yo dieting may actually increase older women’s chances of developing heart disease.
Focus on controlling your portion sizes in healthy ways by:
- Choosing smaller plate sizes
- Create a food journal tracking when and what you eat through a mobile app
- Loading up on fruits and vegetables over sodium rich foods
- Creating a daily heart-friendly menu of meals you’re excited to eat
- Try setting a food curfew–don’t eat 3-4 hours before bed
A strong heart is tied to a healthy diet. Making positive lifestyle choices around food is only one step to preventing heart disease. You can take more action by increasing your exercise routine, or learning your family’s history around heart disease. Everyone needs to start somewhere. Start by talking to your doctor about healthy foods and lifestyle changes that will work for you
Ready to embrace heart disease prevention and a healthier diet? Northwest Primary Care is here to help. Schedule an appointment with one of our caring medical practitioners today.