Over the years, several heart healthy diets, including the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and Mediterranean diets, have trended and been introduced and pushed by researchers, physicians, and nutritionists as being the best diet for heart health. Most of the diets follow similar nutritional guidelines and patterns – less saturated and trans fat, lower sodium.
However, there’s no one specific diet that will fit everyone’s likes and needs. When it comes to the best diet for your heart health, it’s simply about knowing which foods to eat more of and which foods to limit.
With that in mind, here’s a guide to help you create a heart healthy diet that works for you!
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are packed full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—great and necessary sources for a healthy heart and body. Fruits and vegetables are also low in calories and rich in fiber, helping to contribute to a heart-healthy diet and prevent cardiovascular disease.
Fruits and veggies are so easy to include in your diet. You can use a variety of fresh, frozen, and even canned foods. Just make sure to check the labels for no added salt and sugar. Try to eat fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors. This will ensure you are getting a variety of different nutrients. Load up on fruits and vegetables to help prevent you from over-indulging in other foods high in calories and fat.
Tip: Keep fruits and vegetables washed and cut up to make for a quick and easy snack.
Swap White Flour for Whole Grains
Pasta, bread, cereal, and baked goods are delicious, but unfortunately, they don’t do your health any favors. Foods made with white flour and grains, often called refined carbohydrates, have very little nutritional value. Instead, they are high in carbohydrates and calories and have been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Instead of loading up on processed and refined foods, opt for foods made with whole grains. For example, wheat bread and pasta, barley, oats, quinoa, and farro are all whole grains and full of heart health benefits. Their high dietary fiber helps lower cholesterol and control blood pressure, two risk factors for heart disease.
Select Healthy Fats
When we hear the word fat, we instinctually cringe and associate it with something being bad. And to some degree, that’s correct. However, not all fat is bad. Even more, some fat actually helps you lower your cholesterol and improve your heart health.
You want to limit your intake of saturated fats and trans fats. This is because they lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries, increasing your risk for a heart attack and stroke. Saturated and trans fat are found in foods cooked in butter, lard, cream sauces, cocoa butter, gravy, and shortening. You should limit or avoid these types of foods when possible.
Pick healthier alternatives, such as low-fat substitutions, lean meat, and healthy fats. Healthy fats include olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, and fish. Your body actually needs fat, but you need to be sure you’re providing it with the right kind.
Choose Lean Protein
Protein is a necessary nutrient for developing body mass and maintaining overall health. Most protein is found in meats and dairy. Two food sources that are often laden with fat. That’s why it’s important to select lean protein sources with lower fat.
Skinless chicken breast and fish are great lean protein alternatives. Low-fat dairy products, including skim milk and yogurt, along with eggs, and legumes are also great healthy sources of protein. Substituting plant-based protein, such as a soy burger, for animal protein can help cut down on fat and cholesterol and up your fiber intake.
Eliminate Extra Salt
High blood pressure is one of the most critical risk factors for cardiovascular disease. It can develop without any symptoms, which is why it’s often referred to as a silent killer. Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure. Limiting salt is vital to having a heart healthy diet.
Most processed and pre-packaged foods contain high quantities of sodium. Canned foods like soups and frozen meals also tend to be high in sodium. Eat fresh foods and cook at home as much as you can. By not eating out at restaurants and fast food places, you can control ingredients, portion size, and the amount of salt you eat.
Tip: Use herbs and spices to give your meals a boost in flavor instead of salt.
Bulk Up with Fiber
In order for your diet to be heart-healthy, you need to be sure it includes plenty of fiber. As recently stated, fiber helps to control your cholesterol and blood pressure. And another way fiber helps keep your heart healthy is by improving your blood sugar levels. Fiber slows down the absorption of sugar in your body. Whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables are all great sources of fiber.
Prevent Heart Disease with a Heart-Healthy Diet
It’s truly amazing the effect food has on your health. By making a few small changes to your diet, you can see significant improvements to your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and overall health. Changing your diet and breaking bad eating habits isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but it has major rewards.
When it comes to your heart health, it’s just as important to eat a healthy diet as it is to take your heart medications. A heart healthy diet can set you on the path to living a long and healthy life.