Fitness is essential for a healthy heart, but exercise alone is not enough. Diet also plays a pivotal role in cardiovascular strength. In reality, it can be a balancing act – eating healthy and working out. Not sure what a heart-healthy diet looks like? Let’s break it down!
Avoid Making Assumptions about Food Labels
Too many people fall victim to making misguided assumptions about food. Labels like “Organic” or “Vegan” or “Gluten-Free” can often mislead folks who are trying their best to pick out heart-healthy items at the grocery store. In many cases, foods with these labels are healthy – but that’s not always the case.
For example, the “organic” label means that the ingredients were not treated with pesticides. That’s a good thing! However, sugary cakes and thick cuts of red meat – both poor choices for heart health – can also meet the standards for being called organic. The takeaway? Just because an item has a positive label does not mean that it’s heart-healthy.
Instead of making assumptions, it’s better to get a grasp on the dietary choices that are great for cardiovascular health. Take a look.
Fruits and Veggies
Fresh fruits and vegetables are excellent for heart health. Be sure to include a wide variety to get the best range of vitamins and minerals. Also, try to limit your intake of fruits and vegetables that are fried, have a lot of added sugar, or are coated in thick syrup. Fruits and veggies are best for you heart when they are au natural!
Fiber and other nutrients present in whole grains help regulate blood pressure and can help manage cholesterol. As with many diet suggestions, sticking to this guideline is really a matter of choice. Instead of refined flour, white bread, and sugary sweet baked goods, choose whole-wheat flour, whole-grain bread, and oatmeal to help take care of your heart.
Prioritize Plant-Based Proteins
Protein is essential for building muscle. But some sources of protein are better for the heart than others. Instead of frying up a hamburger or sizzling sausages in the pan – both high-fat sources of protein – take a look at legumes (beans, lentils, peas), healthy nuts (walnuts, almonds), eggs, and yogurt. These items have lower fat content, which reduces the risk of clogged arteries that strain the heart.
Limit Processed Foods
Saturated and especially trans fats can contribute to elevated blood cholesterol levels, which ultimately raises the risk of heart attack and stroke. These “unhealthy fats” are heavily present in processed foods, which are food items that have been prepared or packaged in some way prior to consumption. Potato chips, smoked sausages, packaged pastries, and sugary drinks are all examples of heavily processed foods. Avoiding these will cause your heart to thank you!
Avoid Added Sugar
Many foods already have sugar in them naturally, like all those delicious fruits and many vegetables. Get in the habit of resisting the urge to add more and allow your palate to adapt to the natural sweetness of these foods.
Easy on the Salt
Likewise, some of us have the tendency to add loads of salt to our meals. The American Heart Association recommends an ideal limit of no more than 1500mg of salt per day – most Americans are getting close to 3400mg. You can start lowering your intake by simply adding a little less than you normally would. Normally add 3 shakes with the salt shaker? Try just two and let your palate adapt. Then you can cut down even further.
On Occasion, Treat Yourself
Sticking to strict, stressful dietary rules is not the goal here. Adopting heart-healthy habits is a process, and sometimes it’s impractical to avoid making less-than-ideal choices. On occasion, it’s okay to treat yourself – in moderation. As always, check with your doctor for more precise guidance.
Eating for heart health is a great dietary habit that will pay dividends over the years! Become familiar with the guidelines, and start making better choices today.