Healthy eating and good nutrition are important parts of the foundation of good health. Eating healthy helps lower your risk of heart disease but is also necessary after a heart attack.
It is still possible to get life insurance after a heart attack, but it depends on your age, how much time has passed since the heart attack, and how severe it was. Taking care of your health by eating healthy and engaging in physical activity are the two best things you can do to stay healthy and lower your risk for further cardiovascular issues.
The good news is that heart-healthy eating does not have to be difficult or expensive. Eating healthy can also lower your risk for other diseases like diabetes and some types of cancer. Heart-healthy eating also lowers your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and stroke.
The foods and beverages that you eat and drink can have a major impact on your cardiovascular health. There are certain nutrients that should be limited or avoided, while others are encouraged for heart health.
The types of fats in your diet can affect the health of your cardiovascular system. It’s good to avoid saturated fats and trans fat because they cause the body to produce more LDL (bad) cholesterol. This cholesterol can collect in arteries and cause blockages and can also damage arteries and increase inflammation in the body.
Saturated fats are found in solid fats like shortening, lard, butter, and bacon grease. Coconut oil is also highly saturated, even though it is semi-solid.
Trans fats are added to products to increase their shelf life. Fried foods and bakery products like muffins, cakes, cookies, and pies are the two most common sources of trans fat. Fried foods, restaurant foods, processed foods, and bakery items are high in saturated and trans fats.
Foods high in sodium can raise blood pressure, while foods high in potassium can normalize blood pressure. Processed, packaged, and restaurant foods are high in sodium, while fruits, vegetables, and dairy are good sources of potassium.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils like those found in fish, fish oil, avocados, and olive oil are heart-healthy because they can lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol and potentially even raise your HDL (good) cholesterol. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, fish oil, chia seeds, flaxseed, and walnuts are also beneficial for cardiovascular health.
Antioxidants and phytonutrients are healthy nutrients found in many colorful fruits and vegetables. These compounds help prevent inflammation in the body and help protect cells against damage from free radicals and oxidative processes. The goal should be to eat a rainbow of color daily.
The Mediterranean diet is a plant-based eating plan that can help lower your risk for heart disease. It is also healthy for anyone who has heart disease but wants to stay on track with a heart-healthy eating plan.
The Mediterranean diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, grains, olive oil, soy-based products, beans, nuts, seeds, herbs, and seasonings. Physical activity and enjoying mealtime with others are also important components of this heart-healthy lifestyle plan.
This diet also includes at least two servings of fish or seafood for the healthy omega-3 fatty acids. There are moderate daily or weekly portions of low-fat dairy like milk and yogurt. Poultry is also included in moderate portions daily or weekly.
Red meat and sweets are limited or should be avoided as part of the Mediterranean diet. Water should be the beverage of choice, with wine also included in moderation, like enjoying a glass of wine with dinner.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Hypertension means high blood pressure, so this diet is recommended to lower blood pressure. It is low in sodium and high in nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and fiber.
Sometimes the DASH diet is called an Americanized Mediterranean diet because of the similarities between the two. This diet emphasizes unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and beans.
Foods that are good sources of potassium include low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, potatoes, bananas, avocados, beans, tomatoes, and salmon.
The DASH diet limits or restricts foods with added sugar, solid fats, or sodium. This means avoiding or limiting fried foods, processed foods, packaged foods, and sugary beverages.
Heart-Healthy Eating in Each Food Group
The best grains are those that are whole grains because they are less processed and have more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Whole grains include oats, 100 percent whole-grain cereals, 100 percent whole-grain bread, whole-grain pasta, quinoa, brown rice, and popcorn.
The 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that you eat half of your grains from whole grains. It can be easy to swap out your white rice for brown rice or to switch to 100 percent whole-grain bread for sandwiches.
b) Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables are your best bets. Canned vegetables can also be a convenient option, but they are also higher in sodium than fresh or frozen vegetables.
Most people are lacking in the fruit and vegetables part of their diet, so try to add some colorful options to your daily meals and snacks. Try berries or a banana with breakfast. Add an extra serving of vegetables or a side salad with lunch or dinner.
Low-fat dairy products are great sources of protein, calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and many other vitamins and minerals. Low-fat Greek or regular yogurt, 1 percent or skim milk, low-fat cheese, or low-fat cottage cheese are the healthiest options from the dairy group. Moreover, Low-fat yogurt is a great source of probiotics, which keeps your digestive tract healthy.
Plant-based milk like soy, rice, almond, or cashew milk can replace some of the nutrients from cow’s milk like calcium and vitamin D. However, they are missing some of the vitamins and minerals found in cow’s milk.
Fish, poultry, beans, nuts, seeds, and some grains are the best options to get protein without getting an abundance of saturated fat in your diet. Limit red meat, processed meat, or deli meat because they are high in sodium and saturated fats.
Soy protein foods like tempeh, tofu, and edamame are also great plant-protein options. Tofu and tempeh can replace meat in many entrees and take on the flavor of the seasoning or sauce you are using. They are high in many nutrients and keep the fat and sodium levels low.
Vegetable oils like olive oil and canola oil are great options for cooking and for use as a salad dressing because they have monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Coconut oil is over 90 percent saturated fatty acids, so it should be limited or avoided.
Heart-healthy beverages include water, skim or 1 percent milk, plant-based milk, unsweetened coffee, or unsweetened tea. These beverages provide little or no calories with plenty of nutrients. Coffee and tea have antioxidants that can boost heart-health.
Alcohol like wine or beer should be limited or avoided. Moderate consumption of alcohol, especially red wine, can have some heart-health benefits. Moderate consumption is no more than one drink per day.
Avoid or limit sugary beverages like soda, fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, and sugary coffee drinks. The extra sugar can increase the risk for heart disease and can contribute to weight gain.
Heart-Healthy Meal Ideas
There are a variety of options for heart-healthy meals and snacks. Heart-healthy snacks include low-fat Greek yogurt with berries or sliced apples with almond butter.
For breakfast, try oatmeal with berries and Greek yogurt. For lunch or dinner, you can make salmon with quinoa, red peppers, and avocado. Another great option is a stir fry with tempeh or chicken, carrots, broccoli, and brown rice.
Exercise and Physical Activity
Regular exercise and physical activity are also important for heart health. Cardiorespiratory endurance and aerobic activities keep your heart, lungs, and blood vessels healthy.
This includes walking, running, cycling, dancing, swimming, and using cardio equipment at the gym. Exercise also helps manage stress, which can also be protective for heart health.
Heart-Healthy Eating is Easy
Heart-healthy eating can be easy, inexpensive, and convenient. The goal should be to cut back on processed, packaged, and restaurant foods and eat more whole, unprocessed foods.
Eat more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, nuts, beans, seeds, and low-fat dairy to keep your heart in tip-top shape.