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January 23, 2017 | Family Medicine
Diseases of the heart can be fatal. The heart sends blood and oxygen to vital areas throughout the body, and many factors large and small can threaten this process.
A big part of heart health is taking steps to prevent some of the most common heart problems. There are factors that we cannot influence like genetics and inherited conditions present from birth, but there are a lot of factors we can control.
Taking the right preventive steps throughout our lives can make a big difference in heart health, and can be a large factor in preventing some of the most common heart conditions. Good, healthy habits can reduce your risk of heart disease, and diet plays a major role.
The nutrients provided by the foods we eat have a big effect on the health of organs throughout the body, including the heart. Many types of food help promote healthy blood flow and a working heart, where others can increase risk of high blood pressure and other heart diseases.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are some of the best foods to promote a healthy heart. They’re high in positive nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals, and generally low in calories, fats and bad cholesterol. Better yet, a diet with lots of fruits and veggies means you’ll spend less time eating other, more harmful foods.
Whether you eat fruits and vegetables individually or as part of larger meals, try to get multiple servings per day into your diet. Avoid fruits that are packed in syrup or contain too much sugar, or those that have been fried or breaded.
For all grain and bread products, look for whole grain wherever possible. Whole grain and whole wheat products are high in fiber and pose much less risk to the heart than refined grains, especially frozen refined grains.
Cholesterol has been identified by doctors as a potential heart health risk, especially “bad” cholesterol, which can lead to atherosclerosis and other plaque-related conditions. Some of the biggest sources of bad cholesterol are saturated fats and trans fats, which have recommended maximum levels in your diet:
Many of these fats come in solids like butter and margarine, or in sweets. When you do include fat in your diet, choose unsaturated fats found in things like olive oils, nuts, seeds and many vegetables.
Fat can also be found in protein. Protein is necessary to heart health and health in many other areas of the body, but it’s important to avoid high-fat sources of protein. Most red meats and high-fat dairy can be eliminated, along with fried foods. Good protein sources include:
High sodium in the diet can cause high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease. It’s recommended that adults eat no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium in a day, and anyone over 50 or at special risk of heart disease eat no more than 1,500 milligrams. Limit salt wherever you can, as well as fried, canned and frozen foods. Most of your favorite foods can also be found in low-salt options, and these are great alternatives.
Planning your diet ahead of time is a great way to stay on track with your healthy habits. How much you eat is often just as important as what you eat, so portion sizes are key.
The nutritional facts found on foods are good references. You can use these to find out proper serving sizes to balance the calories you eat in important areas like fats, proteins and sodium. It may take some time to learn, so don’t be afraid to speak to your doctor or a nutritionist about any individual questions you may have. Knowing exactly what’s going in your body will help you feel better and keep your habits in check.
Every individual is different, and your dietary needs can vary. Talk with your physician if you have any questions about what your dietary needs are.
“The American Heart Association’s Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations.” American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/The-American-Heart-Associations-Diet-and-Lifestyle-Recommendations_UCM_305855_Article.jsp#.WIDz0xsrKUk
“Heart disease.” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-healthy-diet/art-20047702?pg=1
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.