Did you know that more than 90% of Americans do not consistently eat a heart-healthy diet? This can lead to several risk factors, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.
The American Heart Association recommends that you eat a wide variety of nutritious foods daily from each of the basic food groups to maintain good health. A heart-healthy diet means foods that are low in saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars, and foods high in whole grain fiber, lean protein, and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. If you are lacking any of these basic food groups in your diet, you are not providing your body enough nutrients to make new cells and maintain energy to fight off diseases.
Following a heart-healthy diet is a great way to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and stay healthy, so how do you start? Here are a few ways you can build a healthy lifestyle:
Stock up on healthy food:
Fill your kitchen with more produce such as vegetables, fruits, fiber-rich whole-grain breads and cereals and fat-free or low-fat dairy products and less refined/processed foods.
- Vegetables and Fruits- At least 4.5 cups a day. High in vitamins, minerals, and fibers, but low in calories. Eating a variety of different colored vegetables and fruits can help you maintain your blood pressure and a healthy weight.
- Unrefined fiber-rich whole grain foods- At least three one-ounce equivalent servings a day. Fiber helps keep you full longer and hence can make you eat less, leading to weight loss and lower blood cholesterol.
- Fish- Two 3.5 oz servings of oily fish (salmon, trout, and herring) per week. It contains omega-3 fatty acids that decrease your risk of death from coronary heart disease. For more protein, choose skinless meats and poultry and cook them without saturated and trans fat.
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products- 2 to 3 cups per day. More nutrients especially calcium and less fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories.
Reduce Your Intake of:
- Saturated Fat and Trans Fat- the “bad” fats that raise LDL cholesterol levels. Saturated fat should be less than 7% of your daily calories and trans fat should be less than 1% of your daily calories.
- Sodium- less than 1500 mg per day
- Cholesterol- less than 300 mg per day
- Added sugars- Not more than 36 oz of sugary drinks per week
Track what you’re eating:
Keep a journal or use an online tracker to help you make healthier choices and watch your caloric intake. If you need to lose weight, keeping careful track of your daily caloric intake is one of the best ways to drop the pounds.
Enjoy the new taste:
Changing to a heart-healthy diet can be a bit difficult, but it does not mean you have to eat bland food all the time. There are plenty of nutritional choices available, as well as ways you can spice up your food, that are just as tasty. Many even find fast-food less appealing after switching over. Try some of our Heart- Healthy Recipes to begin your path to a healthy you!
Additional Heart Healthy Resources:
Emory Healthcare is a proud sponsor of American Heart Association’s My Heart. My Life Campaign that promotes My Life Check –Life’s Simple 7. Eating better is one of the 7 steps to a healthier heart.
Learn more about Emory Heart & Vascular Center’s Heart Disease Prevention Program.
About Dr. Allen Dollar
Dr. Dollar is a cardiologist at the Emory Heart & Vascular Center. He specializes in heart disease prevention and works with patients to help them reduce their risk of heart disease. He practices at Emory’s Center for Heart Disease prevention located at 1365 Clifton Road, Building A. Dr. Dollar has won many awards for his excellence in the medical field including the Excellence in Teaching Award, the Health Care Hero Award and the Nanette K. Wenger Distinguished Service Award.