* EAT HEART HEALTHY - I’m saving the best for last. This is the most important part of this article in terms of keeping your heart healthy, and adapting ANY of these eating habits will bring you one step closer to heart health. Some tips from the Mayo Clinic (with some minor dietary tweaking from me):
Choose low-fat protein sources
Lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, and egg whites are some of your best sources of protein. But be careful to choose lower fat options, such as skim milk rather than whole milk and skinless chicken breasts rather than fried chicken patties.
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, chia seeds and hemp seeds.
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 bean burger for a hamburger — will reduce your fat and cholesterol intake.
- Reduce the sodium in your food
Eating a lot of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Reducing sodium is an important part of a heart-healthy diet. The Department of Agriculture recommends:
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 have to eat prepared meals at times, 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.
Control Portion Size:
How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Overloading your plate, taking seconds and eating until you feel stuffed can lead to eating more calories, fat and cholesterol than you should. Portions served in restaurants are often more than anyone needs. Keep track of the number of servings you eat — and use proper serving sizes — to help control your portions. Eating more of low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and less of high-calorie, high-sodium foods, such as refined, processed or fast foods, can shape up your diet as well as your heart and waistline.
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 (Megan says….most of your diet should be vegetables and fruits)
Vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamins and minerals. 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.
- Select whole grains
Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. 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 quinoa or barley.
Another easy way to add whole grains to your diet is ground flaxseed or chia seeds. Flaxseeds and chia seeds 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.
- Limit unhealthy fats and cholesterol
Limiting how much saturated and trans fats you eat is an important step to reduce your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of coronary artery disease. A high blood cholesterol level can lead to a buildup of plaques in your arteries, called atherosclerosis, which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
The American Heart Association offers these guidelines for how much fat and cholesterol to include in a heart-healthy diet:
The best way to reduce saturated and trans fats in your diet is to ELIMIATE margarine and shortening and limit butter (at least it’s a real food). 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. (MEGAN’S ADVICE: limit red meat consumption as much as possible and try to eat more vegetables than meat in a meal).
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 butter.
When you do use fats, choose monounsaturated fats, such as olive 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.
And here’s a list of some heart-healthy food superstars (and all of the fancy health terms described that accompany them, courtesy of WebMD):
Phytoestrogensare substances in plants (like flaxseed) that have a weak estrogen-like action in the body. Studies suggest that flaxseed lowers the risk of blood clots, stroke, and cardiac arrhythmias. It may also help lower total and LDL “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides, and even blood pressure.
Phytosterols are plant sterols that chemically resemble cholesterol — and seem to reduce blood cholesterol. All nuts and seeds, including wheat germ, have phytosterols.
Carotenoids are heart-protective antioxidants in many colorful fruits and veggies. Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene are carotenoids.
Polyphenols are another set of antioxidants that protect blood vessels, lower blood pressure, reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol. Flavonoid polyphenols include catechins, flavonones, flavonols, isoflavones, reservatrol, and anthocyanins. Non-flavonoidpolyphenols include ellagic acid (found in all types of berries).
Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish like salmon) and alpha-linolenic fatty acids (found in plant foods like walnuts) help boost the immune system, reduce blood clots, and protect against heart attacks. They also increase good HDL levels, lower triglyceride levels, protect arteries from plaque buildup, are anti-inflammatories, and lower blood pressure.
B-complex vitamins – like Vitamin B-12 (folate) and vitamin B-6 – protect against blood clots and atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Niacin (vitamin B-3) helps increase HDL “good” cholesterol.
Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that protect cells from free radical damage. Magnesium, potassium, and calcium help lower blood pressure. Fiber-rich foods help lower cholesterol levels.
- Blueberries: Beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids); anthocyanin (a flavonoid); ellagic acid (a polyphenol); vitamin C; folate; calcium, magnesium; potassium; fiber.
- Cranberries, strawberries, raspberries are potent, too — for trail mixes, muffins, salads!
- Carrots: Alpha-carotene (a carotenoid); fiber. Baby carrots are sweet for lunch. Sneak shredded carrots into spaghetti sauce or muffin batter.
- Spinach: Lutein (a carotenoid); B-complex vitamins; folate; magnesium; potassium; calcium; fiber. Pick spinach (not lettuce) for nutrient-packed salads and sandwiches.
- Broccoli: Beta-carotene (a carotenoid); Vitamins C and E; potassium; folate; calcium; fiber. Chop fresh broccoli into store-bought soup. For a veggie dip, try hummus (chickpeas).
- Sweet potato: Beta-carotene (a carotenoid); vitamins A, C, E; fiber. Bake ahead of time for lunch. Eat au naturale, or with pineapple bits.
- Red bell peppers: Beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids); B-complex vitamins; folate; potassium; fiber. Rub with olive oil, and grill or oven-roast until tender. Delicious in wraps, salads, sandwiches.
- Asparagus: Beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids); B-complex vitamins; folate; fiber. Grill or steam slightly, then dress with olive oil and lemon. It’s a pretty side dish.
- Oranges: Beta-cryptoxanthin, beta- and alpha-carotene, lutein (carotenoids) and flavones (flavonoids); vitamin C; potassium; folate; fiber.
- Tomatoes: Beta- and alpha-carotene, lycopene, lutein (carotenoids); vitamin C; potassium; folate; fiber. For a flavor twist, try oil-packed tomatoes in sandwiches, salads, pastas, pizzas.
- Acorn squash: Beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids); B-complex and C vitamins; folate; calcium; magnesium; potassium; fiber. Baked squash is comfort food on a chilly day. Serve with sauteed spinach, pine nuts, raisins.
- Cantaloupe: Alpha- and beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids); B-complex and C vitamins; folate; potassium; fiber. A fragrant ripe cantaloupe is perfect for breakfast, lunch, potluck dinners. Simply cut and enjoy!
- Papaya: Beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein (carotenoids); Vitamins C and E; folate; calcium; magnesium; potassium. Serve papaya salsa with salmon: Mix papaya, pineapple, scallions, garlic, fresh lime juice, salt and black pepper.
- Salmon: Omega-3 fatty acids. Grill salmon with a yummy rub or marinade. Save a chunk to chop for a pasta or salad later on.
- Flaxseed (ground): Omega-3 fatty acids; fiber, phytoestrogens. Ground flaxseed hides easily in all sorts of foods — yogurt parfaits, morning cereal, homemade muffins, or cookies.
- Oatmeal: Omega-3 fatty acids; magnesium; potassium; folate; niacin; calcium; soluble fiber. Top hot oatmeal with fresh berries. Oatmeal-and-raisin cookies are a hearty treat.
- Black or Kidney Beans: B-complex vitamins; niacin; folate; magnesium; omega-3 fatty acids; calcium; soluble fiber. Give soup or salad a nutrient boost — stir in some beans.
- Almonds: Plant omega-3 fatty acids; vitamin E; magnesium; fiber; heart-favorable mono- and polyunsaturated fats; phytosterols. Mix a few almonds (and berries) into low-fat yogurt, trail mix, or fruit salads.
- Walnuts: Plant omega-3 fatty acids; vitamin E; magnesium; folate; fiber; heart-favorable mono- and polyunsaturated fats; phytosterols. Walnuts add flavorful crunch to salads, pastas, cookies, muffins, even pancakes.
-chia seeds: packed with Omega-3s, fiber, protein, and minerals.
-spirulina and chlorella: these are supplements of green-algae superfoods that you can take to add super anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, protein, and blood-cleansing goodness to your life. Some people like adding spirulina powder to smoothies, shakes, or raw cookie/dessert recipes. If the taste is too drastic for you, Hawaiian Pacifica brand or Trader Joe’s makes a super easy tablet to swallow with your vitamins to get this added benefit. Kids can take it, too!
-turmeric: this is a spice native to India that has been used for centuries for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It’s considered a superfood that millions revere and add to their cooking daily. You can add this spice as cumin, but I personally take a daily capsule of concentrated curcumin/turmeric powder to help keep inflammation down.
-OMEGA-3 supplements: even if you eat fish, I highly recommend people to take a daily fish oil supplement, including children. There are so many products out there…but I caution to use a high-quality brand to ensure you are getting ultra-purified fish oil to help prevent mercury and toxin poisoning from farmed fish or fish caught in polluted waters. My favorite brand is Nordic Naturals, but any brand that ensures 3rd party testing and a seal from USP testing is usually safe. I take over 3000mg of fish oil supplements a day to boost heart (and overall) health.
-Vitamin D3: be sure to take a supplement to help keep your heart healthy. Most Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, and although sunlight exposure is the best way to obtain Vitamin D3, it’s hard for many people who live in colder climates or work indoors. 15 minutes a day of sun exposure sans-sunscreen will give you 10,000IU of the vitamin. Not only will it help boost heart health, but it cuts back on inflammation and it boost immunity and bone health. Although the FDA says 400IUs a day is the recommended dose, researchers and doctors are now realizing that doses upwards around 5000 IU a day is optimal…and safe. Be sure to take with fat, as it is a fat-soluble vitamin.
While there was a ton of information shared here, hopefully some of it will be useful in adopting some healthy DAILY heart-healthy habits. Starting your children off as early as possible understanding how important it is to care for our heart (and bodies) will set them up for a lifetime of healthy habits that will be second-nature to them rather than a hassle when adults (and when it could be too late).