How To Eat for a Healthier Heart
Breakfast in the car on the way to school and work, quick lunches between meetings, a rushed trip through the drive-thru on the way home from soccer practice — it’s all too easy to get sucked into convenience when it comes to our diets.
But frozen and processed foods, fast-food meals and restaurant takeout often are high in added sodium and saturated fats, ushering in a number of cardiovascular concerns — with hypertension and high cholesterol at the top of the list.
The American Heart Association recommends two easy-to-follow diet plans to keep your heart healthy: the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diet. Both emphasize eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains and lean proteins.
There are some differences, but both prioritize whole foods and heart-healthy fats over processed products. They also are flexible and adaptable and have a singular goal: preventing heart disease and stroke.
The DASH diet is based on research by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Its aim: lowering or maintaining blood pressure levels by lowering your sodium intake. Along with eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, DASH limits full-fat dairy products, high-fat meats, sugar, alcohol and tropical oils.
As with many eating plans, the DASH diet provides specific guidelines regarding portion and serving size. A 2,000 calories-a-day diet looks like this:
● 6 to 8 servings of grains, mostly whole grains
● 4 to 5 servings of vegetables
● 4 to 5 servings of fruit
● 2 to 3 servings of dairy
● 2 to 3 servings of fats and oils
● Up to 1 serving of lean meat, poultry or fish
● 4 to 5 servings per week of nuts, seeds and legumes
● Up to 5 servings of sweets a week
The DASH diet also provides a dietary chart that details serving sizes and considers factors such as age, activity level and gender.
The Mediterranean diet is similar to the traditional diets of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including Spain, Greece and southern Italy. Studies show that people from these regions have substantially lower rates of chronic disease and longer life expectancies, due in great part to how they eat. The Mediterranean diet recommends eating:
● Plant-based meals with small amounts of lean protein
● Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes
● Fish and other seafood
● Olive oil to prepare food
● Food seasoned simply, without sauces and gravies
● Red wine, in moderation
Steps for Success
Stay on track with either heart-healthy diet by following these common-sense steps:
1. Do your homework. Talk to your doctor and familiarize yourself with the recommended foods and meal schedule, making any necessary modifications due to allergies or preferences.
2. Plan your weekly meals and snacks. Shop in advance and prepare a menu. Have a plan in place for healthy options to order when eating out.
3. Take your time. Your body might need time to adjust to the added fiber and decreased sugar.
4. Add in exercise. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes a week. Even a brisk walk around the block will work together with your diet to help improve your cardiovascular strength.
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