It's no mystery that a healthy lifestyle is key to better health down the road, especially when it comes to heart health. You know that exercise is one big component -- and it shouldn't be a surprise that a healthy diet is another major aspect. There are foods that are really good for your heart -- and then there are foods to avoid. Sometimes it's tough to know which is which.
Basic Dietary Tactics
Certain ground rules should be part of your dietary mindset, no matter what you're eating. First, make it a habit to check the content of the food you eat, and keep an eye on the big three: salt, sugar, and fat.
Salt increases blood pressure, which causes the heart to work harder; sugar stresses the heart and encourages inflammatory disorders; and certain fats and oils lead to increased cholesterol levels, a major cause of heart disease. It's easy to overlook oils, which are essentially fat, when it comes to cutting unhealthy food out of your diet, but it's an important element to think about, as well. Some oils to reduce or avoid include
- Palm and palm kernel oil.
- Coconut oil.
- Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oil.
- Non-stick cooking spray.
You'll also want to moderate your intake of certain beverages, especially alcohol and sugary drinks.
Let's next run through major food groups and the healthier and more unhealthy options for each.
Meat is a good source of protein, but it's not the only one. Because there are other sources of protein, meat is not essential to good heart health. Balance meat with alternate protein sources, including beans, tofu, spinach, nuts and peanut butter. If you do opt for meat, know that lean meats, poultry, and most fish are much better sources than fatty pork and beef cuts.
The main foods to avoid in the meat group are high-fat proteins, including
- Organ meats.
- Fatty lunch meats.
- Hot dogs.
- Duck and goose.
- Certain cuts of steak.
Dairy products are important sources of protein, calcium, and other minerals, but there are plenty of high-fat dairy products that dieters with a focus on heart health should cut, including whole or 2 percent milk, buttermilk, ice cream, and cheese.
Fruits and Vegetables
Most fruits and vegetables are good for your heart, although some fruits have a high sugar content. In this food category, focus on how they are prepared: Raw vegetables are generally best, while steaming, boiling, baking, or roasting are other good prep options.
The right kinds of grains are good for your heart. Look at the ingredients; if a whole grain is among the first listed, chances are it's good for you. However, refined grains or baked goods with high fat or sugar content should be avoided, including
- Pasta and accompanying creamy sauces.
- White bread.
Eating a balanced variety of nutritious foods goes a long way toward better heart health, but you should also exercise self-control as best you can: Avoid seconds and large portion sizes, and save treats for special occasions.
Your Diet and Your Heart Health
Even with the heart out of the equation, better eating habits are important to overall longevity and quality of life. However, a healthy diet is a catch-all preventive tactic particularly when it comes to your heart: It not only lessens your risk of heart disease but also decreases your risk for conditions that lead to heart disease. The chances of developing obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure are all reduced by removing unhealthy foods from your regular diet.
When it comes down to it, the information is out there. Everything you buy at the grocery store is labeled with what you need to know, so get educated and be vigilant; once you get into a healthier routine, it'll be easier to stay consistent with your eating habits.