A heart-healthy diet helps to prevent heart disease
With a heart-healthy lifestyle, you can go a long way toward reducing your risks for heart disease and even preventing it completely. One of the best things you can do for your heart is eat a heart-healthy diet. And one of the first steps you can take in changing your diet is to understand why it’s important and which types of foods you should eat and which you should limit or avoid.
Fad diets aren’t usually your friend. It’s best to make permanent changes to your diet that you can sustain for the rest of your life. You don’t have to do it all overnight either. You can start slowly, swapping out some unhealthy foods for healthier choices.
Here are some foods that are good for your heart:
- Fish that’s high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, mackerel, trout, tuna, and herring
- Nuts, like walnuts and almonds
- Berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and cranberries
- Fruits like papaya, cantaloupe, mangos, and oranges
- Tomatoes and avocados
- Oatmeal and other foods using whole grain oats
- Colorful vegetables, such as carrots; red, yellow, and orange sweet peppers, sweet potatoes, and acorn and butternut squash
- Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and greens (mustard, collard, dandelion, etc.)
- Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts
- Beans, especially dark beans like black and kidney beans
- Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
- Olive oil
What foods can do to help your heart
Your body needs food for fuel, but some foods offer more nutrients than others, and some can even help reverse health conditions like pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Here are some examples of how certain types of foods can help improve your heart health.
- Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, in moderation, may help lower your total blood cholesterol.
- Omega-3 fatty acids can help lower blood cholesterol and triglycerides. Foods high in omega-3s include salmon, mackerel, flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans, and canola oil.
- Whole grains, like oats, whole-wheat flower and bread, high-fiber cereal, and brown rice, quinoa, and barley can help regulate your blood pressure and encourage heart health.
- Fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that can help prevent cardiovascular disease. They can also help you make an easy switch from higher-calorie foods like cheese, meats, and snack food.
How certain foods can compromise your heart health
Just as there are foods that can improve your health, there are foods that can hurt your health too.
- Saturated fats and trans fats can increase your blood pressure and raise your risk of coronary artery disease.
- Processed meats like hotdogs, salami, sausage, bacon and deli meat are often preserved with salts and chemicals called nitrites. Experts believe that the salt and other preservatives can cause heart problems.
- Highly refined and processed grains and carbohydrates, like white bread, white rice, sugary sweets, and low-fiber cereals can lead to spikes in blood sugar. The processing often adds trans fats, sodium, and sugar, which can increase the liver’s production of fat. Increased fat and blood sugar spikes can increase your risk for heart disease and diabetes.
- Sugary drinks have the same effects as highly processed carbohydrates, and they can lead to additional calorie consumption and weight gain, which can increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes as well.
- Salt and foods high in salt can raise your blood pressure, which can lead to atherosclerosis and heart disease. High sodium intake is also linked to obesity.
- Foods high in cholesterol, like cream, margarine, ice cream, and some cheese can lead to artherosclerosis and other heart disease.
The role of fats in your diet
Your body needs fat to function properly, but not all fats are created equal. There are “good” fats and not so good fats.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – the good fats
These fats play some important roles:
- They give your body energy.
- They help keep your hair and skin healthy.
- They help you absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- They fill your fat cells, which helps keep your body warm.
- They help your brain develop, and they control inflammation and help with blood clotting.
You can find these good fats in foods like canola oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, walnuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, avocado, salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, chia seeds, poppy seeds, almonds, and quinoa.
Saturated and trans fats – the not so good fats
These fats can cause health problems. A diet high in saturated fat can increase blood cholesterol that leads to artherosclerosis, which can lead to many heart problems.
Dieticians and weight loss counselor
Your doctor may be a good person to talk to about your diet, but doctors aren’t the only health professionals who can help you with your nutrition. You may also want to make an appointment with a dietitian who can provide education and help you find creative ways to incorporate the healthy foods in your diet while limiting the not-so-great foods. If you’re overweight and want to lose weight, a weight loss counselor might be helpful as well. You can also talk with cardiologists about how food can help prevent and even treat heart disease.
For a referral to a Beaumont primary care physician
, call 800-633-7377. We have locations near you in Southeast Michigan and Metro Detroit.