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May 27, 2011 at 1:25 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

5 Foods for a Healthy Heart

By Jessica Corwin MPH RDN More Blogs by This Author

According to data from the American Heart Association, on average someone undergoes a stroke every 40 seconds; every 4 minutes, the stroke is fatal. Strokes are only one of the fatal results of cardiovascular disease, the leading killer in the US. While this data is difficult to digest, I am happy to report there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.

Cardiovascular (heart) disease is largely impacted by physical activity, smoking, being overweight or obese, and diet. Thankfully these are all factors you can control on your own! As a registered dietitian I am here to focus on the food factor. A balanced diet can help us to lower our blood cholesterol, blood sugar, and even blood pressure – all while helping us to achieve a healthy weight.

Read on for 5 foods that will help you do just that as you jump start your own heart healthy diet!

#1. Whole grains.

Whole grains are nutrient rich and a great source of fiber. When compared with refined and enriched grains, typically white in color, whole grains can’t be beat! The higher fiber content helps to stabilize your blood sugar, preventing a sudden surge in blood sugar. Each time we eat too many refined carbs our pancreas must work extra hard to pick up all of the sugar filling our bloodstream, potentially increasing our risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Save your health (and your pancreas) by aiming to make at least half of your grains whole.

#2. Lean protein.

By substituting lean proteins such as skinless chicken breast, beans, edamame, seafood, or eggs, for fatty options such as processed meats, red meats, or bacon, you will automatically reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet. The American Heart Association recommends limiting our saturated fat intake to less than 7%-10% of your total calories, roughly an amount equivalent to 15 grams or less for a 2,000 calorie diet. Saturated fat is known to raise our lousy LDL cholesterol which can increase our risk for heart disease.

#3. Fatty fish.

Salmon, mackerel, herring, and certain types of tuna are loaded with heart healthy Omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fat. It is easy to recognize the difference as the saturated fats are bad fats and unsaturated fats are good. Unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) help to reduce disease causing inflammation, promote healthy cell development, and may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.

#4. Fruits and veggies.

A diet abundant with a rainbow of colorful produce will offer countless benefits. Fruits and vegetables tend to be packed with nutrition and water, yet low in calories; therefore they provide a great way to feel full faster without having to eat a ton of extra calories. By aiming to have fruit for a snack a couple of times each day and filling half of your plate with veggies at mealtime, you will soon be feeling fuller on less. Ultimately this may help you to consume less calories, helping you to lose weight. If you are overweight, losing even 5% of your total body weight will significantly reduce your risk of both cardiovascular disease and Type 2 Diabetes. Remember, all it takes to lose one-pound this week is to cut 100 extra calories each day!

#5. Herbs and spices.

Flavorful fresh herbs and zesty dried spices are a simple way to reduce your reliance on the salt shaker. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans advise limiting our sodium (essentially a fancy term for salt) to less than 2,300 milligrams each day. Though for Americans over the age of 50 years old or at risk for heart disease, the amount is actually lowered to a mere 1,500 milligrams. This amount can be a challenge at first, especially if you frequently add salt to your food. A single teaspoon of salt contains 2,000 milligrams of sodium, yet surprisingly the majority of the salt in our diet comes from packaged food or restaurant selections. Opt for low-sodium or no-added-salt versions of your favorite canned goods and begin to incorporate more herbs and spices to add a new flavor profile to your meals and snacks.

For more advice on a heart healthy diet be sure to check out some of the videos where Barnaby and I get to the heart of this nutritious diet.

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