Poets have written about it. Musicians have sung about it. We even have a holiday dominated by pictures of it all over the place. It has become the universal symbol of love.
We’re talking about the heart, something we can’t live without – and something we need to protect at all costs if we want to live a long, healthy life.
Your diet is your first line of defense against cardiovascular disease and a host of other conditions that hurt your heart and your overall health. Exercise is important, too, but your diet matters more; as the saying goes, “You can’t outrun your diet.” What you eat matters tremendously.
Here are tips you can follow to create a heart-healthy diet that will help your ticker keep on ticking.
If You Eat Bread, Eat Whole-Grain Bread
By bread, we mean anything made with grains. What you want to avoid are breads and bread-like products, like pasta, made from refined grains. This includes most types of white bread and anything made with refined white flour.
Instead, choose whole grains. You can eat foods made with whole-wheat flour, or eat whole-grain bread and pasta. Brown rice, barley, and quinoa are also excellent foods, as is oatmeal. Additionally, you can eat cereal that has 5g of fiber or more in a single serving.
Stay away from biscuits, non-whole-grain pasta, white bread, muffins, doughnuts, cakes, pies, crackers, and other bread products that aren’t whole grain.
We want to focus on whole grain foods because they’re an excellent source of fiber and other nutrients that can, in addition to other things, regulate blood pressure.
Fruits and Vegetables Are Your Friend
Everyone knows to eat fruits and vegetables, but sometimes, we interpret that very liberally and eat processed fruits and veggies, or foods with lots of added sugar.
Stick to fresh or frozen fruits without added sugar. Choose ones that have lots of fiber. You can eat canned fruits, as long as they’re packed in water or juice – not syrup.
For vegetables, fresh or frozen works, but stick to low-sodium versions. Don’t eat veggies that come with creamy – and fattening – sauces, or that are breaded or fried. If you fry, say, zucchini or okra, you’re wiping out the health benefits of the veggie, which is why we’re eating it in the first place!
Cut Down on Unhealthy Fat
Your body needs some amount of fat, but it has to be healthy fat and it has to be in controlled amounts. Too much fat – good or bad – is a problem for your heart and increases your chances of getting coronary artery disease and high blood cholesterol.
You want to avoid all forms of trans fat. You can eat saturated fat, but don’t eat more than 13 grams of fat each day (for a 2,000 calorie per day diet) or 6% of your total daily calorie intake, whichever is smaller.
What’s better than saturated fat is mono or polyunsaturated fat. If you swap the former out for the latter, you can lower your cholesterol. Unsaturated fats and foods that are better for you include:
- Fatty fish
- Seeds and nuts
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
- Ground flaxseed
- Vegetable oil
- Nut oil
- Margarine without trans fat
Limit your intake of fat from foods like butter, lard, gravy, bacon fat, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated margarine or butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil, palm-kernel oil, and nondairy creamer.
Limit Your Portion Size
Finally, it’s not just about what you eat, but how much you eat.
Americans like to eat big. When Europeans come over to visit, they’re astounded by how large our portion sizes are. That’s because Americans have been conditioned to fill up our plates and eat everything on them.
You shouldn’t eat until you feel stuffed. You should eat until your hunger is satisfied, but not until you feel “full”. Eating to that point just means you’re taking on more calories than your body needs, which leads to gaining weight and putting pressure on your heart and cardiovascular system.
So, limit the portions of foods that have lots of sodium, fat, or processed ingredients. But, you can actually trick your mind into thinking you’re eating the same amount of food by eating larger portions of vegetables and fruits.
Also, learn how to identify serving sizes and how many servings of a food you’re eating. If you can start to recognize serving sizes, and get a basic familiarity with how many calories are in a serving size, you can do a better job of limiting your portions.
Above all, get a feel for your body. If your body has had enough food, don’t feed it anymore. It helps to eat more slowly, too; studies have shown that slowing down while eating can reduce the overall amount of calories you take in during a meal.
Your heart is really important. You need it to live and live fully. Help out your heart – and yourself – by adopting a heart-healthy diet that will leave you feeling fresher and better with each meal.
Our doctors are standing by to help you get healthier. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our caring specialists.