World Heart Day is September 29. This global campaign created by the World Heart Federation aims to highlight the prevalence of heart disease and stroke, the most common non-communicable diseases on earth. Learn why heart-healthy eating is important and what changes you should make to your diet.
Why Should I Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet?
Eating healthy food has numerous benefits, from a smaller waistline to less inflammation to smoother skin and hair. One of the most significant benefits is the chance to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
According to the World Heart Federation, heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death around the world, with 17.9 million lives lost every year. The federation estimates that at least 80 percent of premature deaths caused by heart disease and stroke could be avoided if everyone ate a healthy diet, stopped using tobacco, and became more physically active.
What Does Heart-Healthy Eating Look Like?
Take charge of your health by eating certain foods every day and leaving others out. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends making the following changes to your diet:
What foods to eat
- Fruits and veggies: At least half of every meal should be comprised of fruits and vegetables. Every snack should include fresh produce as well. By doing this, you can achieve the recommended four servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables each day.
- Whole grains: The majority of the grains you eat should be whole grains (as opposed to refined white flour). Examples of whole grains include whole wheat, oatmeal, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, millet, whole rye, and whole barley.
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy: While full-fat dairy contains a high amount of saturated fats and cholesterol, low-fat and fat-free varieties deliver the nutrition you want—such as protein, calcium, and vitamins—without damaging your heart.
- Healthy fats: When eaten in moderation, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are considered heart-healthy. You can find these fats in olive oil, nuts, and some fish.
- Lean protein: Your body uses protein as a healthy energy source. The only problem is that protein is often found in high-fat foods. Some healthy sources of lean protein include skinless chicken and turkey, beans, legumes, and eggs.
What foods to avoid
- Saturated fat: Less than 10 percent of your daily caloric intake should be from saturated fats. This means you should avoid pizza, fried food, bacon, hamburgers, ice cream, cakes, and cookies.
- Trans fat: Commercially prepared baked goods, snack foods, fried food, and margarine often contain partially hydrogenated oils, which are extremely bad for your heart. Check food labels and avoid products that contain trans fat.
- Cholesterol: Many animal products are high in cholesterol, including bacon, whole milk, full-fat cheese, ice cream, and eggs. While most of these foods should be avoided, studies show that eating one egg per day doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease in healthy individuals.
- Sodium: Commonly called table salt, sodium is found in far more than just your salt shaker. Frozen pizza, lunch meat, hot dogs, soups, pasta sauce, and store-bought bread are often high in sodium. A high-sodium diet leads to high blood pressure, a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Try to limit your daily consumption to less than 2,300 milligrams (the amount in one teaspoon).
- Added sugar: Fruit and dairy products contain naturally occurring sugars, but these don’t cause the same concern as the added sugars found in soda, sports drinks, and desserts. Look for ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, honey, molasses, and caramel, which are all basically different ways of saying “sugar.”
How Can I Make Better Dietary Choices?
Read food labels
Most packaged foods feature a Nutrition Facts label. This has all the information you need to determine the calories, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars found in each serving. You’ll also see carbohydrates, dietary fiber, protein, and certain vitamins and minerals listed. Pay attention to the serving size as well to help you gauge your portions.
Some foods don’t have labels, such as fresh produce and seafood. For these items, refer to the Food and Drug Administration’s nutrition information guide for raw fruits, vegetables, and fish.
Talk to your doctor
A yearly health screening at your doctor’s office is a great way to learn the numbers associated with your heart health, including your blood pressure, lipids (cholesterol), and glucose (blood sugar). If your numbers fall outside the normal range, your doctor may recommend ways to make improvements. Undoubtedly, one of the biggest tips you’ll receive is to engage in heart-healthy eating.
Work with a registered dietitian
It can be overwhelming to implement your doctor’s tips on your own. If you don’t have time to study your options and figure out what’s best for your body, it’s all too easy to slip back into bad habits. That’s why it’s valuable to work with a registered dietitian.
At Mile High Spine & Pain Center, we can provide a nutritional assessment to help you dig deep into any problems with your diet. After all, unhealthy eating can cause far more than just weight gain and heart disease—it can also make you feel tired and irritable, lower your immune function, and cause low-grade aches and pains. We can help you reveal possible dietary deficiencies and food sensitivities so you can make changes that protect your heart, promote weight loss, and make you feel great.
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