Although you might know that eating certain foods can increase your heart disease risk, it's often tough to change your eating habits. Whether you have years of unhealthy eating under your belt or you simply want to fine-tune your diet, here are eight heart-healthy diet tips. Once you know which foods to eat more of and which foods to limit, you'll be on your way toward a heart-healthy diet.
Allow yourself an occasional treat
Incorporate these eight tips into your life, and you'll continue to find that heart-healthy eating is both doable and enjoyable. With planning and a few simple substitutions, you can eat with your heart in mind.
Choose low-fat protein sources
Fish is another good alternative to high-fat meats. And certain types of fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower blood fats called triglycerides. You'll find the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Other sources are flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans and canola oil.
Legumes beans, peas and lentils also are good sources of protein and contain less fat and no cholesterol, making them good substitutes for meat. Substituting plant protein for animal protein for example, a soy or bean burger for a hamburger will reduce your fat and cholesterol intake.
Proteins to choose:
- Low-fat dairy products such as skim or low-fat (1%) milk, yogurt and cheese
- Egg whites or egg substitutes
- Fish, especially fatty, cold-water fish, such as salmon
- Skinless poultry
- Soybeans and soy products, for example, soy burgers and tofu
- Lean ground meats
Proteins to limit or avoid:
Control your portion size
- Full-fat milk and other dairy products
- Organ meats, such as liver
- Egg yolks
- Fatty and marbled meats
- Cold cuts
- Hot dogs and sausages
- Fried or breaded meats
A serving size is a specific amount of food, defined by common measurements such as cups, ounces or pieces. For example, one serving of pasta is 1/2 cup, or about the size of a hockey puck. A serving of meat, fish or chicken is 2 to 3 ounces, or about the size and thickness of a deck of cards. Judging serving size is a learned skill. You may need to use measuring cups and spoons or a scale until you're comfortable with your judgment.
Eat more vegetables and fruits
Health Tips for Today - Heart Healthy Diet. Vegetables and fruits are also low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. Vegetables and fruits contain substances found in plants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Eating more fruits and vegetables may help you eat less high-fat foods, such as meat, cheese and snack foods.
Featuring vegetables and fruits in your diet can be easy. Keep vegetables washed and cut in your refrigerator for quick snacks. Keep fruit in a bowl in your kitchen so that you'll remember to eat it. Choose recipes that have vegetables or fruits as the main ingredient, such as vegetable stir-fry or fresh fruit mixed into salads.
Fruits and vegetables to choose:
- Fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits
- Low-sodium canned vegetables
- Canned fruit packed in juice or water
Fruits and vegetables to avoid:
- Vegetables with creamy sauces
- Fried or breaded vegetables
- Canned fruit packed in heavy syrup
- Frozen fruit with sugar added
Limit unhealthy fats and cholesterol
The American Heart Association offers these guidelines for how much fat and cholesterol to include in a heart-healthy diet:
Type of fat:
Recommend than 7% of your total daily calories, or less than 14 g of saturated fat if you follow a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet
Recommend less than 1% of your total daily calories, or less than 2 g of trans fat if you follow a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet
Recommend less than 300 mg a day for healthy adults; less than 200 mg a day for adults with high levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol or those who are taking cholesterol-lowering medication
The best way to reduce saturated and trans fats in your diet is to limit the amount of solid fats — butter, margarine and shortening — you add to food when cooking and serving. You can also reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet by trimming fat off your meat or choosing lean meats with less than 10 percent fat.
You can also use low-fat substitutions when possible for a heart-healthy diet. For example, top your baked potato with salsa or low-fat yogurt rather than butter, or use low-sugar fruit spread on your toast instead of margarine.
You may also want to check the food labels of some cookies, crackers and chips. Many of these snacks — even those labeled "reduced fat" — may be made with oils containing trans fats. One clue that a food has some trans fat in it is the phrase "partially hydrogenated" in the ingredient list.
When you do use fats, choose monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil or canola oil. Polyunsaturated fats, found in nuts and seeds, also are good choices for a heart-healthy diet. When used in place of saturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may help lower your total blood cholesterol. But moderation is essential. All types of fat are high in calories.
Plan ahead: Create daily menus
Create daily menus using the six strategies listed above. When selecting foods for each meal and snack, emphasize vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Choose lean protein sources and limit high-fat and salty foods. Watch your portion sizes and add variety to your menu choices. For example, if you have grilled salmon one evening, try a black-bean burger the next night. This helps ensure that you'll get all of the nutrients your body needs. Variety also makes your meals and snacks more interesting.
Reduce the sodium in your food
- Healthy adults have no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day (about a teaspoon)
- People age 51 or older, African-Americans, and people who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease have no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day
Although reducing the amount of salt you add to food at the table or while cooking is a good first step, much of the salt you eat comes from canned or processed foods, such as soups and frozen dinners. Eating fresh foods and making your own soups and stews can reduce the amount of salt you eat. If you like the convenience of canned soups and prepared meals, look for ones with reduced sodium. Be wary of foods that claim to be lower in sodium because they are seasoned with sea salt instead of regular table salt — sea salt has the same nutritional value as regular salt.
Another way to reduce the amount of salt you eat is to choose your condiments carefully. Many condiments are available in reduced-sodium versions, and salt substitutes can add flavor to your food with less sodium.
Low-salt items to choose:
- Herbs and spices
- Salt substitutes
- Reduced-salt canned soups or prepared meals
- Reduced-salt versions of condiments, such as reduced-salt soy sauce and reduced-salt ketchup
High-salt items to avoid:
- Table salt
- Canned soups and prepared foods, such as frozen dinners
- Tomato juice
- Soy sauce
Select whole grains
Health Tips for Today - Heart Healthy Diet. You can increase the amount of whole grains in a heart-healthy diet by making simple substitutions for refined grain products. Or be adventuresome and try a new whole grain, such as whole-grain couscous, quinoa or barley.
Another easy way to add whole grains to your diet is ground flaxseed. Flaxseeds are small brown seeds that are high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower your total blood cholesterol. You can grind the seeds in a coffee grinder or food processor and stir a teaspoon of them into yogurt, applesauce or hot cereal.
Grain products to choose:
- Whole-wheat flour
- Whole-grain bread, preferably 100% whole-wheat bread or 100% whole-grain bread
- High-fiber cereal with 5 g or more of fiber in a serving
- Whole grains such as brown rice, barley and buckwheat (kasha)
- Whole-grain pasta
- Oatmeal (steel-cut or regular)
- Ground flaxseed
Grain products to limit or avoid:
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- White, refined flour
- White bread
- Frozen waffles
- Corn bread
- Quick breads
- Granola bars
- Egg noodles
- Buttered popcorn
- High-fat snack crackers
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