How to be heart-healthy in and outside the kitchen
Living a lifestyle that’s heart-healthy is straightforward. It’s not going on a salt-free, fat-free, sugar-free diet and it’s not about working out at the gym every day of the week. Instead, eat sensible portions of a balanced diet rich in nutrient-dense foods and get some exercise and a good night’s sleep.
These practical tips will inspire you, whether you’re just getting started on living heart-healthy or you’d like to refine the good things you’re already doing.
Focus on your overall diet
Pack in fruits and veggies, fiber-filled whole grains and lean proteins most of the time and you’ll be doing your ticker a favor. When you eat whole foods and most of them plant-based, you’ll be getting all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy without worrying about counting individual nutrients. Keep in mind that an occasional bag of salty potato chips or a single fried chicken dinner probably won’t give you a heart attack. So, once in a while, when you want to treat yourself to a favorite craving, enjoy it without guilt.
Cook at home
The easiest way to eat heart-healthy foods is to cook your own meals. And they don’t have to take a lot of time or involve complicated recipes. In your own kitchen, you can use wholesome foods in abundance and keep processed foods and trans fats to a minimum. You can add salt and sugar at your discretion and to your taste.
Some kinds of fats are good for your heart
Plant foods abundant in oils such as avocados, walnuts and flaxseed; omega-3 rich fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel; and plant-based oils, like olive, canola, peanut and safflower all contain fats that support a healthy heart.(1) As a delicious example, the Mediterranean diet, which is based on whole foods with a moderate amount of fat from olive oil, nuts and fish, is linked to improved heart health.(2)
Shop like a detective
Plan shopping trips when you have time to read labels carefully so you can choose what’s best for you and your family. When you buy processed foods, make choices with less added sugar, sodium and partially hydrogenated oils (these are a source of trans fat, which can negatively affect your heart health).(3)
Put scientific controversy into perspective
Scientists are constantly discovering new information about the best way to eat for heart health. With each conflicting news report, you may feel like giving up and ignoring all scientific advice. Don’t be frustrated – most of what we’ve always known about healthy eating remains true.
When it comes to the controversy surrounding saturated fat and sugar contributing to heart health risks, keep in mind It can be difficult to pinpoint certain ingredients or nutrients and conclusively blame them for heart health issues – no single food is going to make or break your health – it is a combination of all the choices you make over a lifetime. It is better to focus more on whole foods and what you should be eating more of each day. The bottom line – dietary advice for heart-healthy eating hasn’t changed that much over the decades: Eat a variety of nutrient-rich plant-based foods and enjoy sensible portion sizes, while eating less highly processed foods.
It’s not just what you eat
How you take care of yourself by getting enough exercise and sleep also plays a role in heart health. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise to promote cardiovascular health(4) and seven hours sleep each night to decrease the risk of high blood pressure, a possible cause of heart disease.(5) And if you smoke, stop.
(1) Fats: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/FATS-The-Good-the-Bad-and-the-Ugly-Infographic_UCM_468968_SubHomePage.jsp
(2) Adopt a Mediterranen Diet Now for Better Health Later, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/adopt-a-mediterranean-diet-now-for-better-health-later-201311066846
(3) Trans Fat, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Trans-Fats_UCM_301120_Article.jsp#.V97lpfArK70
(4) American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/American-Heart-Association-Recommendations-for-Physical-Activity-in-Adults_UCM_307976_Article.jsp#.V97mmfArK70
(5) Sleep & Heart Disease, https://www.goredforwomen.org/live-healthy/first-steps-to-prevent-heart-disease-and-be-heart-healthy/sleep-heart-disease/