By Rennie Aranda, Skinny Gene Registered Dietitian
Heart disease can be preventable, so it is important to know what you should do to improve your heart health, as well as what you shouldn’t do. Although there are some things you can’t control, such as getting older or having a parent with heart disease, there are many more things you CAN do to lower your risk of heart disease. Poor food choices and living a sedentary lifestyle can have a negative effect on your heart, weight, and overall health. A healthy diet may reduce your risk of heart disease or stroke by as much as 80%! Take care of your ticker with these 5 do’s and don’ts to prevent heart disease and take greater control over the quality and length of your life:
- DO focus on fruits and vegetables. The recommended amount is a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Aim for all kinds and colors of fruits and vegetables that are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that promote a healthy heart and body. Filling fiber and low calories in fruits and vegetables help in promoting weight management as well. Switch it up with fresh, frozen, dried, canned (without sugar/syrups or added salt), raw, and cooked fruits and vegetables to keep it exciting.
DON’T overdo it on juice and processed fruit snacks. Avoid pastries or snacks with fruit filling since it is mostly sugar, not a real serving of fruit. Small amounts of 100% fruit juice (no added sugar) can fit into a healthy diet, as long as most servings come from whole fruit that also offer heart-healthy fiber while juice does not.
- DO focus on wholesome, nutrient-dense foods. Choose unprocessed foods rich in unsaturated fats, fiber, and lean protein. These include fruits, vegetables, fish, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
DON’T overlook sodium. Processed foods, frozen entrees, canned vegetables (with added salt), common condiments (like ketchup), deli meats, and some cheeses can be high in sodium as can many restaurant dishes. Try to monitor sodium intake and strive for no more than 1,500 milligrams a day to help prevent high blood pressure and heart disease. Eating fresh foods, looking for unsalted meats, making your own soups or food at home, and using salt substitutes while cooking can dramatically decrease your sodium intake.
- DO limit unhealthy fats. Saturated fat is found in butter, lard, cream, and meats. Reduce the amount of solid fats in your diet by finding lower-fat substitutes. Try topping your baked potato with salsa or low-fat yogurt instead of butter. Instead of spreading margarine on your toast, try using a low-sugar fruit spread. Cook with liquid oils like canola, olive, safflower, or sunflower or substitute two egg whites for one whole egg in a recipe. Flavor your dishes with herbs or lemon juice. Trim fat off your meat or choose leaner proteins such as fish and poultry instead of red meat, bacon, sausage, or fried chicken. Limiting saturated fats and cutting out Trans fats entirely can help lower your risk for heart attack and stroke.
DON’T eat out often, especially fast food places. Not only do they offer foods that are high in the unhealthy fats discussed above, they tend to offer huge portions that are often more than we need. This is a recipe for disaster when it comes to heart health. Try to cook meals at home using fresh produce and lean protein choices. For those with busy schedules, cook just a couple days out of the week and make extra helpings of your healthful meals. Store the leftovers in single-portion, reusable containers that are ready to grab and eat for the rest of the week. If you do decide to eat out at a restaurant, try to split an entrée with a friend or take half your meal home for tomorrow’s lunch. (Read this skinny gene article for portion control tips: http://skinnygeneproject.dreamhosters.com/portion-control-tips/)
- DO increase physical activity. Not only does exercise have physical benefits such as healthy weight maintenance and positive health outcomes, it also reduces stress hormones that cause negative heart health risks. Exercise may improve heart health by regulating the body’s cholesterol and blood pressure. Evidence also shows that regular physical activity improves brain health, bone health, mood, and the ability to fight colds, as well as decreasing risk of cancer and diabetes. Even a modest amount of exercise helps and it’s never too late to get started! Aim for at least 30-60 minutes of physical activity daily.
DON’T smoke. Studies have linked cigarette smoking to coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attacks. A smoker’s risk of dying from this disease is two to three times greater than a nonsmoker’s.
- DO manage stress. Chronic stress may increase your risk to have heart disease, high blood pressure, chest pain, or irregular heartbeats. The stress itself can be a problem, but the way you handle stress also matters. Responding to stress in unhealthy ways (such as smoking, overeating, or being physically inactive) can make matters worse. Finding healthy ways to deal with stress such as exercising, maintaining a positive attitude, not smoking or drinking too much alcohol, getting plenty of sleep, enjoying a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight can help keep you in good heart health as well as improve your overall quality of life. If you’re finding it hard to deal with stress, seek help from a doctor or counselor.
DON’T skip your checkups. There are silent heart risk factors that are harder to detect on your own so it is important to regularly get checked out by a doctor. Some of the most common, symptom-free heart issues are easily treated, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. It is better to get the milder problems and heart risk factors in line before it becomes a major issue.