One of the biggest risk factors for heart attacks and strokes is a heart-friendly diet with too much animal fat, mainly from meat and dairy products. These contain saturated fatty acids, which gradually lead to deposits in blood vessels as well as in organs.
But even if you don’t have a cardiovascular health concern, sticking to a heart-friendly diet is important, since it can reduce the risk of heart disease in the future. Many foods can help keep your heart at its best. Some help to lower your blood pressure. Others keep your cholesterol in line. So add these items to your shopping cart if you want to follow a heart-friendly diet.
Eat colorful food
Eating a rainbow of foods is a great way to ensure you’re getting a variety of vitamins and minerals — different antioxidants create the different colors in fruits and veggies. For example, yellow or orange food contain a variety of carotenoids, an antioxidant that reduces your risk of developing cancer.
Green vegetables are high in lutein, which keeps your vision sharp and clear. Red foods are reloaded with lycopene, shown to possibly protect against cancer and heart disease. White foods like cauliflower also have a lot to offer nutritionally, cauliflower has cancer-fighting properties. Potatoes are a good source of vitamin C and potassium — just make sure to eat the brown skin for its fiber content to follow a heart-friendly diet.
Eat fruit as a dessert
Eating any food consistently after a meal can contribute to unwanted weight gain, even if it’s a food as healthy as fruit. If you consume more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight over time, regardless of where those calories come from. Fruit has an average of three times the calorie count of most vegetables, and eating more than three 1/2-cup servings of it per day could cause you to put on weight.
No question: bananas, apples, berries, and oranges are healthy. However, fruit also contains lots of sugar. This causes the blood glucose levels to rise rapidly.
Buy fruits and vegetables in season
If you’re buying fruits and vegetables when they’re out of season, it means they’re not being farmed and harvested domestically. Instead, they’re shipped from abroad where local conditions allow them to grow.
Only when fruits and vegetables are freshly harvested, they contain a lot of nutrients and thus have the best possible cell protection function.
Enjoy fish as often as possible
Especially cold water fish delivers omega-3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fatty acids act like a rejuvenation on the vessels. The higher the proportion of these fatty acids in the cells, the lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, studies show. In one study of more than 40,000 male health professionals in the US, those who regularly ate 1 or more servings of fish per week had a 15% lower risk of heart disease. There are tons of easy and healthy recipes you can follow.
Add legumes to your heart-friendly diet
People who eat legumes are less likely to develop heart disease. Results from the US-based study NHANES indicates that legume consumption four or more times a week is associated with a 22% lower risk of coronary heart disease and an 11% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease compared to only eating legumes once per week.
Clinical trials indicate eating between 75g – 300g of cooked legumes a day may lower heart disease risk significantly. Beans, lentils, and peas are particularly good suppliers of unsaturated fatty acids that are almost as valuable as those which are polyunsaturated.
Do not eat late
As well as contributing to weight gain, a new study has suggested that snacking late at night could increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found evidence that poor timing of meals can also affect cholesterol levels which can increase the risk of heart disease or suffer a heart attack. So if you want a heart-friendly diet definitely make sure to eat 2-3 hours before you go to sleep.
Watch out for drinking calories!
Rising consumption of sugary drinks is a big enemy of a heart-friendly diet and a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. A typical 20-ounce soda contains 15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar and upwards of 240 calories. A 64-ounce fountain cola drink could have up to 700 calories. People who drink this “liquid candy” do not feel as full as if they had eaten the same calories from solid food and do not compensate by eating less.
A study that followed 40,000 men for two decades found that those who averaged one can of a sugary beverage per day had a 20% higher risk of having a heart attack or dying from a heart attack than men who rarely consumed sugary drinks. A related study in women found a similar sugary beverage–heart disease link.
Instead… Drink Water!
When a person begins to dehydrate more things happen in the body than just being thirsty. The more liquid in the body that is lost, the thicker the blood becomes and the harder the heart muscle must work to pump the blood through the circulatory system.
It also fills the stomach without calories. Two glasses of water before each meal helps you feel full. The daily minimum is two liters of water. Each individual body cell is dependent on sufficient supply of liquid. Otherwise, it contracts, becomes shriveled and can no longer function optimally.
Control your Portions
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 than you should. Portions served in restaurants are often more than anyone needs. Keep track of the number of servings you eat. 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 about 2 to 3 ounces, or about the size and thickness of a deck of cards.
Say No to Salt
Too much sodium in the bloodstream can increase water retention in blood vessels and increase blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure puts greater strain on the heart and can contribute to plaque build-up that blocks blood flow. Additionally, a high-sodium diet can also lead to bloating, puffiness and weight gain.
A heart-healthy diet forms the foundation of fighting heart disease. Eating well can help you maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels while also reducing your risk for obesity and diabetes. Moreover, research from Northwestern Medicine shows that following a healthy diet as early as young adulthood can have an impact on heart health as early as your 30s. Which is to say, there’s no time like the present to affirm or adopt your own heart-healthy diet. Check out our recipes to get some ideas of healthy food here.