Following a heart-healthy diet doesn’t need to be difficult or complicated. You just need to know which foods you should focus on and which foods you should eat less often. Here are a few tips to get started.
- Focus on eating nutrient-rich foods
These days, more foods are processed or ultra-processed, which leaves them with fewer nutrients, water and fiber and higher salt, sugar and fat People easily consume more calories when eating these foods and therefore, gain weight. For a diet rich in nutrients and fiber, moderation is key. Use processed food as a treat, while focusing on whole, natural foods… lots of fruit, veg and whole grains. Eat the rainbow. Colorful foods provide more nutrients and phytochemicals that help prevent chronic disease and maintain energy balance.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
Whether they’re fresh, frozen or even dried, fruits and vegetables are a vital component of a heart-healthy diet. You can eat them on their own or find ways to incorporate them into meals you already eat. For example, add veggies such as cucumber, sprouts, tomato, lettuce or avocado to your favorite sandwich or enjoy a baked apple with peanut butter for a snack.
- Choose fiber-rich whole grains
Fiber-rich whole grains are a great addition to your diet because they may help lower your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and your risk for heart disease and diabetes. A few whole grains to try include whole-grain bread, quinoa, brown rice, farro and light popcorn.
- Eat a variety of fish
Aim to eat fish two to three times a week, especially fish containing omega-3 fatty acids. Doing so can help lower your risk for cardiovascular disease, heart failure, and stroke. When preparing your fish, opt for grilled or baked over breaded or fried.
- Limit saturated fat and trans fat
Instead, replace them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. You can find these fats in olive oil, canola oil avocados, flax and pumpkin seed, nuts, and fish. Eating patterns that are low in saturated and trans fat, but rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat may help lower risk for cardiovascular disease.
- Cut back on added sugar
Sweeteners in food and beverages, typically added during preparation, may be listed in the nutrition label as glucose, dextrose and corn syrup – to name a few. In addition to counting calories to food and drinks, excess sugar is associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease and obesity.
- Add flavor to foods without salt
Instead of using salt to flavor your food, try using herbs, spices, vinegar, onion and garlic powder, hot sauce, lemon or lime juice, and citrus fruits. For example, season chicken breasts with cumin and chili powder or make your own salad dressings and marinades with olive oil, lemon juice and fresh herbs. Choose more often: fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned, whole food snacks instead of processed, fresh meats instead of lunch meats, sausage, bacon, plain starchy vegetables that you season yourself. Taking steps to lower your sodium intake can help lower your blood pressure and help you take control of hypertension.
- Watch portion sizes
Keeping an eye on portion sizes is important for maintaining a healthy body weight. An easy way to think about portions is to follow the MyPlate method of filling half of your plate with veggies, a quarter with lean protein and a quarter with carbohydrates.
- Be cautious of processed, plant-based meat alternatives
Many plant-based products are ultra-processed and high in sodium and saturated fat. Eating less meat is a great goal, but make sure the bulk of your diet is from whole foods, rather than ones that are processed. Instead of replacing meat with a plant-based meat product, try beans, quinoa, tempeh or tofu.
- Heart-healthy meal ideas
Here is a sample day of eating heart-healthy meals:Breakfast: Plain Greek yogurt with berries and nuts or whole grain toast with nut butter
Lunch: Bell pepper stuffed with quinoa, beans, sundried tomatoes and olives
Dinner: Grilled salmon, roasted potatoes with chives, roasted vegetables sprinkled with pine nuts, and a mixed greens salad with olive oil and vinegar
How can Edward-Elmhurst Health help?
We’re focused on helping people find long-term solutions rather than quick fixes. Our licensed dietitian-nutritionist can help you learn how to eat heart healthy. We also offer cooking demonstrations, group lifestyle classes and weight management clinics to help people achieve lasting success. To learn more, visit us online or call 630-527-6363.