Heart disease remains the number one killer of Americans. Stroke is the number four killer and the leading cause of disability in the United States. More women die of heart disease than all forms of cancer combined. The good news is that making right choices involving healthy eating habits, exercise and smoking can prevent heart disease.
As a dietitian working in a cardiac rehab program, I often hear my patients say they feel overwhelmed when trying to make heart healthy food choices and they feel that following a “cardiac diet” is too difficult. I stress to them that they should not look at it as a diet, but a healthy way of eating that everyone should be following and that eating for overall heart health is easier than they might think.
Below are five simple ways that I share with them to help them get started.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Buy plenty of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. These are a good source of fiber and fruits and vegetables that are deeply colored throughout such as spinach, carrots, and berries are usually higher in vitamins and minerals than others such as potatoes and corn. Fruits and raw vegetables make a great low calorie snack.
- Eat more whole-grain foods. Whole grains are low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber. Whole grains and other high fiber foods can help control blood cholesterol levels and give you a feeling of fullness so you eat less. Examples of whole grain foods are oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat flour. When reading the food label, whole grain should be listed as the first ingredient.
- Eat more chicken, turkey, fish and dried beans. When preparing poultry, choose leaner light meat (breasts) rather than the dark meat (legs and thighs) and remove the skin. Choose cuts of red meat and pork labeled “loin” and “round”. Eat grilled or baked fish high in omega-3 fatty acids at least twice a week. Examples include: salmon, trout, tuna, and sardines. Dried beans, peas, and lentils can be used as entrees or in soups.
- Read food labels. Food labels provide information to help you make better food choices, but it is important to know how to read them correctly. The % DV is a quick guide that tells you the percent of each nutrient in a single serving based on a 2000 calorie diet. If you want to consume less of a nutrient such as fat or sodium, you should choose a food with % DV of 5% or less. If you want to consume more of a nutrient such as fiber, you should choose a food with a % DV of 20% or higher.
- Monitor portion sizes and include a variety of color on your plate. Eating too much of any food, even a healthy food can lead to consuming excess calories and contribute to weight gain. You can use the MyPlate model to help plan heart healthy meals and include a variety of color and nutrients on your plate.
Remember, change isn’t easy, but making small changes like these over time will lead to a healthier lifestyle and a healthier you!