By Milette Siler, RD, LD, CCMS
Your heart works hard every day, so what can you do to help keep it at the top of its game? Multiple studies show that consistent exercise, quitting smoking, and a heart healthy diet significantly reduce risk for heart disease. Try the following tips to help on your journey to heart healthy eating.
1. Choose Foods Low in Sodium
Found in salt, sodium acts as a magnet pulling water into your blood vessels. This increases the pressure in your blood vessels, increases the work of your heart, and can speed up the rate at which plaque, a substance that can cause heart attacks, builds up in your blood vessels.1 The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.4
How can you reduce sodium?
- Get Creative with Flavor Enhancers. Instead of adding salt, try topping your food with lemon or lime juice, vinaigrette, or spices such as paprika, chili powder, or herbs. This will enhance the flavor of your meal without the added sodium.
- Opt for “No Salt Added.” When buying canned foods and vegetables, try those that have “no salt added.” If this is not available, rinse canned vegetables before eating to wash away some of the additional salt.
- Get Creative in the Kitchen One study showed that 71% of sodium in our diet comes from processed and restaurant foods.2 Cooking at home can be a great family activity and a way for you to control the salt content. Make sure to include lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to load your meal with beneficial nutrients!
2. Choose Foods Lower in Saturated Fat
Unsaturated fats, found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and fish, have been shown to decrease cholesterol levels and reduce the risk for heart disease. By substituting unsaturated fats for saturated fats, you can decrease potential plaque build-up and lower the risk for heart disease.
How can you increase unsaturated fats and reduce saturated fats?
- Substitute Butter. When cooking meat or vegetables on the stove, try an unsaturated oil such as olive oil instead of butter. One study showed that eating ½ tablespoon of olive oil or more per day decreased the risk of heart disease by 15%.3
- Be Choosy at the Meat Counter. Go for lean meat options, such as chicken breast, 90 to 95% lean ground turkey or beef, or pork loin, and remove skin from poultry. Also, grill your meats rather than pan fry them. This will lower the need for additional butter and oils.
- Try Some Fish. Fatty fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, and mackerel are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids help reduce the risk of heart disease and may lower triglyceride levels. Challenge yourself to substitute two servings of fish per week for other meat options!
3. Add Variety to Your Meals
It is important to have a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains in your diet. It is just as important to enjoy the process of creating your meals. Try a new fruit or vegetable or the new recipe you have been eyeing. Get your family involved or invite a friend over to cook (or connect virtually). Heart health begins in the kitchen. When it comes to improving your long-term health, small decisions can have a big impact.
- American Heart Associaton: Get the Scoop on Sodium and Salt
- CDC: Sodium and Food Sources
- American Heart Association: Olive Oil May Lower Heart Disease Risk
- American Heart Association: How Much Sodium Should I Eat Per Day