A healthy heart is the basis for a healthy life. But for most Americans, a healthy heart doesn't just come naturally. It takes work to keep your heart in tip-top shape, including exercise and a quality diet. Even if you already have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease, you can improve your heart health by making smart lifestyle choices under the guidance of your doctor.
Its important to take heart health seriously. Each year, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Here are some ways you can improve your diet for better heart health:
- Reduce Your Sodium: The American Heart Association cautions against the Salty Six when it comes to watching your sodium intake. Bread, lunch meats, sandwiches, poultry, pizza, and soups can be loaded with salt. While bread and poultry may seem like surprising additions to this list, they can harbor a significant amount of sodium, especially if you have more than one serving per day. Be sure to check nutrition labels on your bread and be careful with added salt when you are preparing chicken.
Lunch meat, pizza, canned soups, and fast food sandwiches, on the other hand, are notoriously high in sodium. Just one serving of any of them can have 50 to more than 100 percent of your daily recommended sodium intake. Its best to avoid them or be careful to buy or prepare low sodium versions.
- Know Your Fats: Oils and fats in food are bad. Right? The real answer is actually more complicated. It turns out there are good fats that benefit your heart as well as bad fats that dont. Good fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats) can actually reduce your bad cholesterol and are heart beneficial when eaten in moderation. You can find these healthy fats in foods like nuts, fish, olive oil, and avocados.
Bad fats (saturated and trans fats), on the other hand, contribute to bad cholesterol that clogs arteries. They come in the form of cream, butter, fatty beef, and those partially hydrogenated oils you sometimes find on packaged food ingredient lists. That doesnt mean you should never eat ice cream again but you should enjoy foods high in bad fats infrequently and in moderation.
- Fall in Love with Fiber: Numerous studies have shown increasing your fiber intake reduces your risk for heart disease. High fiber foods include many fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains like whole wheat, bran, barley, oats, and brown rice. Eating high fiber foods is known to lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, and regulate blood sugar. People who eat diets high in fiber also tend to weigh less. Maintaining a healthy weight is another key factor in having a healthy heart.
For more ways to keep your heart healthy, download our free guide, Remaining Active: How to Begin a Regular Exercise Routine.