Want the basics on eating right for a healthy heart? Ascension wellness specialists and dietitians give us the "skinny" on fats and other nutrition factors.
Get the Facts on Fats
Forget these fats: trans and saturated! Not all fats and oils are created equal. There has been a lot of buzz around the heart hazardous, artery clogging trans-fat and saturated fat. Work to decrease your intake of these "bad fats" by making some healthy substitutions.
Trans-fat is found in stick margarine, shortening, and many processed foods. To identify if a food has trans-fat, check out the food label. If it contains the words hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated, avoid it! Don't be fooled by labels that read "trans-fat free." This simply means that per serving there is less than 0.5g of trans-fat. Having multiple sources or servings of these foods daily will quickly rack up your total trans-fat intake!
Saturated Fat Facts
Saturated fat comes primarily from animal sources including full-fat dairy, butter, ice cream, and red meat. Try to remember that most of our saturated fat comes from our four legged friends! Unhealthy fats are solid at room temperature, but heart healthy oils are not!
Focus on Oil
Two heart-healthy oils to focus on are poly-unsaturated fatty acids, also known as PUFAs, and mono-unsaturated fatty acids, MUFAs. Incorporating MUFAs and PUFAs into your diet in place of their less healthy fat counterparts is a great way to improve your cholesterol values and overall heart health.
Great sources of PUFAs include oily fish such as tuna, salmon, cold water trout, mackerel, and sardines. Aim for at least two servings per week. Other foods to add to your diet include walnuts, flax seed, omega-3 fortified eggs, and small leafy greens.
Cooking with olive oil and canola oil is a great way to add MUFAs to your diet. Try substituting these for butter when cooking, or use an olive oil based vinaigrette in place of creamy dressing such as ranch or thousand island. Also, try substituting avocado on your sandwich in place of mayonnaise and snack on nuts and seeds.
Worth its salt?
When working to improve your heart health, take notice of the sodium content in your foods. Decrease sodium intake by cutting back on processed foods. Processed foods, whether in a can, box, or bag, have added sodium to keep it shelf stable and to preserve it. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the same preservation effect on us! Remember, just because you can't taste it, doesn't mean it isn't there, so be sure to check out the food label. For healthy adults, keep your sodium intake below 2000mg per day.
Are you getting enough fruits and vegetables every day? Most people are surprised to hear the recommendation is to eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day!
One of the many benefits of fruits and vegetables is that they are naturally low in sodium and high in potassium. While sodium increases your blood pressure, potassium works to keep it in check. The recommendation for healthy adults is to consume twice as much potassium as sodium each day. Unfortunately, as a country we tend to get twice as much sodium as potassium! Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake is a step in the right direction. Great sources of potassium from fruit include bananas, watermelon, oranges, cantaloupe, and plums. If you favor vegetables, reach for sweet potatoes, mushrooms, spinach, winter squash and broccoli.
One of the best ways to keep your heart healthy is to maintain a healthy weight. Balance your calories consumed with calories burned. If you could lose weight, even a 10 percent weight loss can improve your overall heart health.
Speaking of calories burned, don't forget to exercise! Not only will it help you maintain or work towards a healthy weight, but your heart is the most important muscle in your body. Just like any other muscle, you need to exercise it to keep it healthy and strong.
10 Heart-Healthy Foods
You’ll want to keep these heart-healthy foods in your house:
- Walnuts – Helps cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation.
- Spinach – Helps brain function and improves blood pressure.
- Salmon – Omega-3 in salmon helps prevent heart disease.
- Kidney Beans – High in fiber and lowers cholesterol.
- Oatmeal – Lowers the rise in blood sugar after meals.
- Blueberries – Antioxidants/fiber helps prevent heart disease.
- Broccoli – Can help lower cholesterol and help facilitate digestion.
- Carrots – Improves vision and helps prevent heart disease.
- Tuna – Aids in the prevention of irregular heart rhythms.
- Flaxseed – Prevents hardening of the arteries.