Heart disease is the #1 killer of both women and men. Eating a heart-healthy diet is key to help reduce your risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, overweight, and obesity. It also will help you control these conditions if you already have them.
Here are some general guidelines for heart-healthy eating:
- Choose foods low in saturated and trans fats. Foods low in saturated fat include fruits, vegetables, whole grain foods, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products. Try to avoid commercially fried and baked goods such as crackers and cookies.
- Choose a diet moderate in total fat. The good news is that you don't have to eliminate all fat from your diet! A diet moderate in fat will give you enough calories to satisfy your hunger, which can help you to eat fewer calories, stay at a healthy weight, and lower your blood cholesterol level. To keep your total fat intake moderate, try to substitute unsaturated fat for saturated fat.
- Choose foods low in cholesterol. Try to eat fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or nonfat dairy products, and moderate amounts of lean meats, skinless poultry, and fish. Eat plenty of soluble fiber, which may help lower your LDL ("bad") blood cholesterol. Good sources are oat bran, oatmeal, beans, peas, rice bran, barley, citrus fruits, and strawberries. Insoluble fiber will not help your blood cholesterol level but is still good for healthy bowel function. Good sources of insoluble fiber are whole wheat breads, kidney beans, almonds, beets, carrots, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and apple skin.
The American Heart Association also recommends that you try to eat at least two servings of fish per week (especially fatty fish like salmon and lake trout) because they are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which may help lower blood cholesterol. (Some types of fish, such as swordfish, shark, or king mackerel, may contain high levels of mercury and other environmental contaminants that can damage the brain and nervous system, especially in developing fetuses. Children, pregnant, and breastfeeding women should limit how much fish they eat to no more than 12 ounces per week.)
You also can eat omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources, such as from tofu, soybeans, canola, walnuts, and flaxseed (these contain alpha-linolenic acid, a less potent form of omega-3 fatty acid).
- Cut down on sodium. If you have high blood pressure as well as high blood cholesterol-and many people do-your health care provider may tell you to cut down on sodium or salt. Even if you don't have high blood pressure or cholesterol, try to have no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium each day. The DASH Diet also recommends a lower level of 1,500 mg of sodium a day. You can choose low-sodium foods, which will also help lower your cholesterol, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or nonfat dairy products, and moderate amounts of lean meat. To flavor your food, reach for herbs and spices rather than high-sodium table salt. Be sure to read the labels of seasoning mixes because some contain salt.
- Watch your body weight. It is not uncommon for overweight people to have higher blood cholesterol than people who are not overweight. When you reduce the fat in your diet, you cut down not only on cholesterol and saturated fat but on calories as well. This will help you to lose weight and improve your blood cholesterol, both of which will reduce your risk for heart disease.
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