Heart Healthy Diet: What You Need to Know

Heart disease is among the leading killers of both men and women in the United States. While certain lifestyle factors like maintaining a stable weight and regular exercise are important for maintaining a healthy heart, the foods we choose to consume matter just as much. A healthy diet is one of your best weapons in the battle against heart disease and feeling your healthiest. In fact, choosing to follow a healthy heart diet may reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by 80% (helpguide.org).

When you don’t know where to begin, choosing to make simple changes to your eating habits and nutrition is a great place to start. To help keep it all straight and understand the reasonings behind the various nutrition recommendations, consider some of the following tips.

Pay Attention to the Type of Fats You Eat

Fat is essential to your diet; in other words you need it! However, there are types of fat that can negatively impact your heart health; specifically, trans-fat and saturated fat are the two types of fats that pose the most concern. These two types of fats can affect blood cholesterol levels by lowering the level of HDL cholesterol (aka: good cholesterol) while elevating the level of LDL cholesterol (aka: bad cholesterol) in your blood. When the levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol are not within normal range or are disproportionate, this can cause excess cholesterol to collect in the walls of the blood vessels, which raises the risk for heart disease and stroke.

Foods containing saturated fats include fatty beef, bacon, sausage, lamb, pork butter, cheese and other dairy products made from whole or two-percent milk.

Trans-fat is both naturally occurring and artificially made. Many fried foods and packaged products contain high levels of trans-fat as well.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults should limit their consumption of saturated fat to five to six percent of their total calories. The consumption of trans fat should be less than one percent of total calorie intake.

Say No to Salt

Similar to fat, sodium is a mineral that is essential for life. Sodium is needed for many bodily functions including fluid volume, acid-base balance and the transmission of signals for muscle function. However, too much sodium can pose risks. When sodium is elevated in the bloodstream, this can increase water retention in the blood vessels causing elevated blood pressure. Over time, if elevated blood pressure is not resolved this can put great strain on your heart, contribute to plaque heart healthy diet build-up and ultimately increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Sodium is a tricky ingredient and takes a bit more effort and attention to detail when trying to cut back. A great place to start when trying to cut back on sodium is checking the Nutrition Facts labels on products. Companies are required by law to list the amount of sodium, as well as other ingredients, in their products. As mentioned before, sodium can be sneaky and added to foods in great amounts without you even being aware.

One place sodium likes to hide out is in meals and dishes you order from a restaurant. In fact, more than 75% of sodium intake comes directly from processed and restaurant foods (wow!). Therefore, in order to help with reducing sodium intake when choosing to eat out or order take out-request no added salt in your dishes.

Although these tips may seem demanding, your sodium intake will be significantly reduced, and your heart will be happy. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, which is about the size of a teaspoon of salt (the recommendation is even lower, 1,500 milligrams, for people with chronic disease and over the age of 50)! Implementing these tips will not only help with meeting this recommendation, but reduce your risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, kidney disease, and more.

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