This time of year, you’re probably stocking up on valentines and other cute ways to show your love. Why not give your heart a little love through a heart-healthy diet?
After all, February is known as the month of love. You can share your love with your partner, your kids, other family members, and friends. But you can also share a little love with your heart.
If you’re looking to improve your heart health, one of the best things you can do is pay close attention to what you’re eating. Being mindful about the foods you use to fuel your body can have a big impact.
“Many of the risk factors for heart disease, such as having high blood pressure or being overweight, can be tied back to what we eat,” says Trenis Nash, NP-C, nurse practitioner with West Tennessee Medical Group. “Even making small adjustments to how and what you eat can help lower your risk of developing heart disease and other heart health issues.”
What Is a Heart-Healthy Diet?
Well, let’s first rule out a common misconception—there is no single diet that’s the heart-healthy diet. It’s not about following a rigid diet plan or eating according to a certain schedule. It’s about eating using ingredients that are healthy for your heart.
When you’re eating for your heart, there are some foods you should eat in abundance and others you should limit. Let’s take a deeper dive into the basics of a heart-healthy diet:
- Fill your plate with fruits and vegetables. In fact, experts recommend filling half of your plate at meals with these healthy foods. Why? Because they’re packed with heart-healthy antioxidants and essential nutrients. Aim for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in a plethora of colors; each offers a distinct set of nutrients.
- Eat bread when you want. But make it whole grain! Whole grain bread, pasta, cereal, and other products offer a distinct advantage over their refined (or white) counterparts—they contain fiber. Fiber can help keep your cholesterol in a normal range and lower your risk of heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes. Whole grains also contain many nutrients, such as B-vitamins, iron, magnesium, and selenium.
- Choose healthy proteins. If you’re eating meat, select lean cuts and prepare them by baking, broiling, or grilling them, rather than frying. Legumes, nuts, and low-fat dairy products are healthy sources of protein, which can help keep you energized.
- Add in a dose of fish. Include a four-ounce serving of fish in your diet a couple times a week. Fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna, contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats are known to help lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides, and reduce inflammation in the body.
- Make healthy fat choices. Many times, dietary fat is considered an innately bad thing. But that’s not actually true. In order to function at its best, your body needs a small amount of fat. Some fats, though, are better than others. Limit your intake of saturated fats, like those found in processed meats, full-fat dairy products, fried foods, fast food, and tropical oils such as coconut oil. Instead, choose unsaturated fats—the kind found in olives, nuts, avocado, and fish.
- Watch your sugar intake. Did you know? According to the American Heart Association, American adults eat an average of 88 grams of sugar per day! While there are natural sugars found in fruits and dairy, it’s important to moderate the amount of added sugar you’re eating. Experts recommend getting no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day, so watch those product labels.
- Eat an occasional piece of chocolate. No, this point doesn’t contradict the tip just above! Choose the darkest chocolate that’s palatable to you, selecting an option that’s lower in sugar. Dark chocolate contains heart-healthy antioxidants and can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease. Stick with a single serving at a time.
- Put down the saltshaker. The American Heart Association recommends that we get no more than one teaspoon of sodium per day, but most Americans get way more than that. Sodium is used as a preservative in many foods, which means packaged and restaurant foods may contain an entire day’s recommended allotment in a single meal. Control what you can. Find alternative ways to season your foods, including fresh herbs, rather than using salt. Prepare meals at home whenever possible, which will lower their sodium content.
Could your heart use a checkup? Make today the day you schedule an appointment with a West Tennessee Medical Group cardiologist. Find a provider here.