Heart Healthy Diet - Guideline for Healthy Heart

Heart patients and individuals with a family history of heart diseases must be very careful about their diet and lifestyle choices. Nature has bestowed humans with a large number of food items which help in keeping the blood-pumping muscles of the heart in an excellent shape. Starting from breakfast to dinner as well snacking in between, it is important to pick the right food in order to maintain the health of this major body organ. The following discussion will help you make the right choices by providing useful tips for a heart healthy diet.

Heart Healthy Eating Diet

Turning to Fruits and Vegetables

The health benefits of fruits and vegetables are immense. They are great for maintaining your overall health. Here is why fruits and vegetables are particularly beneficial for the heart:

  • They are loaded with important minerals and vitamins which play an important role in keeping individuals healthy in various ways.
  • There is a very low content of calories in fruits and vegetables which prevents unhealthy weight gain.
  • They are a natural source of fiber which is very important for the digestive as well as the circulatory system. In case of the latter, fiber helps in preventing blood clotting to keep all the blood vessels and the heart in good shape.
  • Plants contain certain substances which play a role in preventing cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, fruits and vegetables are a good source of these useful substances.
  • The high fiber content and low glycemic index of most fruits and vegetables helps individuals feel full and satisfied. Owing to this reason, they do not crave for unhealthy snacks.

Those who wish to avail the benefits of fruits and vegetables for the heart should go for fresh and organic varieties. Avoid canned fruits which are packed in heavy, sugary syrup. In addition, also avoid fried fruits or fruit salads with added sugar. Keep your kitchen stocked with a supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. Turn to them at snack time or prepare fresh salads for meal times.

Avoiding Unhealthy Fat

Unhealthy saturated and trans fats are one of the top causes of cardiovascular diseases. For a heart healthy diet, individuals must limit their consumption of such fats. Overcome your cravings for fried food and fast food. Unhealthy fats can increase the levels of blood cholesterol leading to a condition known as atherosclerosis – built-up of plaque in the arteries which causes a hindrance in the flow of blood. This increases the risk of a heart attack.

Here are some tips to help you avoid unhealthy fat.

  • Saturated fat should be substituted with polyunsaturated as well as monounsaturated fats. These non-harmful types of fat are found in olive oil, canola oil, nuts, avocados, seeds and some types of fish. However, moderation should be practiced since any type of fat contains calories.
  • Turn to low-fat substitutes, such as skimmed milk and low-fat yogurt.
  • Incorporate lean meat in your diet instead of red meat. Moreover, trim the fat off the meat in order to further reduce the amount of fat you would ultimately consume.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most health-friendly edible substances. Turn to fish, flaxseeds, avocados and other food items which offer a high content of omega-3.

The main purpose of avoiding unhealthy fat for your heart is to maintain your blood cholesterol and keep your weight in check. Follow the above mentioned tips and stay in shape.

Picking the Right Proteins

Proteins are essential for the repair and growth of cells. In addition, they are required for building and maintaining body muscles. However, it is important to pick the right type of proteins. Choose a source which is low in fat as well as cholesterol. The following lists will help you in your selection.

Recommended Proteins Sources

Here is a list of protein sources which are heart friendly.

  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Egg whites
  • Low-fat dairy items
  • Skimmed Milk
  • Skinless Chicken
  • Legumes
  • Soybeans

Harmful Protein Sources

Heart patients should avoid the following sources of protein.

  • Red meat
  • Whole milk
  • Chicken with skin
  • Full fat dairy items
  • Bacon
  • Fried meat
  • Organ meat
  • Spareribs
  • Sausages

Reducing Sodium

All those lip-smacking salty snacks and fast food items are a pleasure for the taste buds but extremely dangerous for the body’s circulatory system. It is time to change habits like sprinkling salt over buttered popcorns or fries. A high consumption of sodium increases blood pressure which is directly linked to the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Take help from the following tips in order to reduce your sodium intake.

  • Healthy adults should keep their sodium intake below 2,300 mg per day. On the other hand, individuals who are at a risk of heart or kidney diseases, those who are suffering from diabetes or high blood pressure as well as people over the age of 50 should make sure that their sodium consumption does not exceed 1500 mg per day.
  • As a first step, reduce the amount of salt you use for cooking as much as possible instead of eliminating it altogether at once. Let your taste buds get used to low-salt food slowly.
  • Avoid canned and processed food since it mostly contains a high content of sodium. Instead, consumed fresh foods and prepare your meals at home.
  • Do not be fooled by food labels which claim to have low-sodium owing to the use of sea salt in place of table salt. This is because the nutritional value and effect of both salts is the same. Turning to sea salt does not make food heart-friendly.
  • Go for natural herbs, spices and salt-substitutes to add flavor to your food. This will help you cut down your sodium intake without making your food bland.

Adding Oatmeal to the Menu

Heart patients and those at risk of cardiovascular diseases should add oatmeal to their daily menu. It can be consumed at breakfast or eaten as a snack between meals. This high-fiber cereal is wonderful at helping individuals lower their levels of blood cholesterol. According to researchers, oatmeal acts as a sponge in the gastrointestinal tract. This sponge sucks up cholesterol. Therefore, instead of being absorbed into the bloodstream, cholesterol is removed from the body. However, it is recommended to avoid instant oatmeal or that coming out from a cereal box. These types of oatmeal often contain added sugar. Therefore, turn to old-fashioned oatmeal. It may also be consumed in other forms, such as oatmeal bread or sugar-free oat cookies.

Indulging in Dark Chocolate

Maintaining the heart’s health is not all about bland foods. At times, one can also indulge in tempting delights, such as dark chocolate. Several studies have proved the benefits of dark chocolate for the health of the heart. It contains a high content of flavonoids which lower the risk factors that lead to cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure and blood clotting. A recent study conducted in 2012 showed that if consumed daily, dark chocolate can help an individual avoid strokes and heart attacks. However, milk chocolate and candy bars are not recommended. Dark chocolate with sixty to seventy percent content of cocoa is the one you should turn to for your heart.

Snaking on Nuts

A handful of nuts makes up for a good snack to satisfy your cravings between meals. A variety of nuts, including almonds, walnuts, peanuts and pistachios are great for the heart. These nuts can help in the following ways.

  • Nuts contain no sugars and are low in calories.
  • Certain nuts, such as walnuts, contain heart-friendly fat: omega-3 fatty acids. It acts as an antioxidant and maintains the overall health of the cardiovascular system.
  • Most nuts contain vitamin E which has multiple benefits for the health. It keeps the level of blood cholesterol low and, therefore, helps in preventing coronary heart diseases.
  • Nuts are high in fiber which helps in controlling the level of cholesterol in the bloodstream.

It is recommended to go for nuts which do not have any added salt or sugar.

Consuming Green Tea after Meals

In many parts of Asia, green tea is consumed after meals in order to aid digestion. However, this wonderful beverage has several other health benefits as well owing to its high content of antioxidants. For this reason, the popularity of green tea has spread to the west as well. Heart patients are advised to consume 3 to 4 cups of green tea on a daily basis. It may be taken after meals or at any other time of the day. An important component of green tea is catechin which helps in maintaining the health of the heart. However, it is essential to know that this magic component can turn into something harmful if you do not brew green tea the right way. Cooking it for more than three minutes can eliminate the usefulness of green tea, turning it from beneficial to harmful. Therefore, make sure you brew it for one to three minutes only.

All the tips mentioned above will help in maintaining the overall health of the heart. The right type of diet will help in controlling the levels of cholesterol and blood pressure while your weight will also remain in check. Occasionally, you can let yourself indulge in a savory delight. However, make sure you do not over-indulge.

About the Author

Posted by: M. Isaac / Senior writer

A graduate in biological sciences and a PhD scholar (NCBA&E University, Lahore), M. Isaac combines his vast experience with a keen and critical eye to create practical and inherently engaging content on the human body. His background as a researcher and instructor at a secondary school enables him to best understand the needs of the beginner level learners and the amateur readers and educate them about how their body works, and how they can adopt a healthier lifestyle.

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