Foods for your heart: Simple diet changes you can make

September 16, 2021 | by Mary Gardner, RD, LDN
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

A healthy diet and lifestyle are the best way to prevent a variety of diseases, including heart disease.

It may seem daunting to change your diet, but starting with small steps and building on your success can lead to improved health and lasting lifestyle changes.

Here are tips to improve your diet and help your heart and overall health:

  • Focus on healthy fats. Not all fats are bad for you. In fact, your body needs some fat. Olive oil, avocados, nuts, chia or flax seeds and salmon are some of the more popular options for the healthy fats your body needs.

  • Include fiber. Ditch the white bread and rice, and opt for a whole grain bread or brown rice. In the produce section, go for the rainbow and pick up colorful fruits and veggies like dark leafy greens, purple cabbage or red raspberries. Chia and flax seeds not only provide healthy fats but also are a good source of fiber and can be sprinkled on top of a smoothie or oatmeal.

  • Go plant-based. Switching meat options for plant-based meals can do your heart good. Consider switching a couple of meals with meat each week for plant-based options like a yummy veggie burger or a taco made with lentils and avocados.

  • Skip the salt. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting your sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day if you’re trying to reduce blood pressure, and notes that lowering sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day lowers blood pressure even further. To cut sodium intake, set the saltshaker aside and opt for fresh herbs, sodium-free or low-sodium seasonings and citrus to add flavor to your food.

  • Limit saturated fats. Instead of whole milk, pick up some skim milk and swap whole fat cheese for a healthy, lower-fat cheese. Avoid packaged baked goods or other treats that are high in fat and look for treats that are lower in saturated fats. When shopping for meats, look for lean cuts and limit high-fat meats like bacon or sausage. Chicken, salmon or ground turkey also make for good substitutes to fatty meats.

  • Stay hydrated. Make sure you are drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day and stay away from sugary drinks.

  • Exercise, reducing stress and healthy sleep habits offer non-dietary ways to improve heart health and overall health. The AHA recommends getting 150 minutes of exercise per week, or 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week. Adults should get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Exercise and a good night’s sleep can help reduce stress. Practicing gratitude and mindfulness can also help lower stress levels.

Check out these heart-healthy recipes:

Try these quick and easy food swaps for heart health:

  • Instead of steak or chicken in a stir fry meal, try it with tofu, edamame, tempeh or another plant-based option that offers a protein punch.
  • Try a bean burger or a veggie burger instead of a cheeseburger.
  • Try using lentils and avocados for tacos instead of ground beef or steak.
  • Grilling? Try salmon or albacore tuna instead of steak or other fatty meats.
  • Make a healthy trail mix with a bit of dark chocolate for a sweet treat instead of grabbing a candy bar or cookie.
  • Try zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash or cauliflower rice (prepackaged options can be found in the produce or freezer aisles) instead of pasta or white rice.
  • Replace high-sugar cereals with oatmeal topped with chia seeds and berries.
  • Grab fresh herbs, garlic or citrus to season foods instead of salty seasonings.

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