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Heart Disease

This section focuses on the subject of heart disease.

A Heart Healthy Diet Guide to Prevent Heart Disease

Did you know that lifestyle choices can reduce and prevent the risk of heart disease, specifically through diet and exercise? Keep that beloved organ beating with this heart healthy diet guide.


Although heart disease and stroke is the leading cause of death in the United States, lifestyle choices can reduce and prevent the risk of heart disease, specifically through diet and exercise. Keep that beloved organ beating with this heart healthy diet guide.

What is a Heart Healthy Diet, Anyways?

When it comes to the health of the heart, a wide variety of nutrients come into play. From dietary fiber to fats, protect your heart and prevent heart disease with these simple guidelines:

Whole Grains and Fiber
Choosing whole grains over refined grains can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Unlike whole grains, refined grains have been processed, which generally removes valuable B-vitamins, iron, and dietary fiber. Some refined grains add nutrients back into the product, while generally leaving fiber behind. The B-vitamins folate and vitamins B-6 and B-12 have been reported to cut the risk of heart disease while iron is important for bringing oxygen-rich blood to the heart. To increase whole grain intake, eat more whole wheat, oats and oatmeal, corn and popcorn, brown and wild rice, and quinoa and consume less white flour and white flour products such as white breads and pastries.

Fruits and Veggies
Colorful fruits and veggies are extremely rich in a wide variety of heart-healthy nutrients. Magnesium found in dark leafy greens, strawberries, and figs are considered to by heart-protective. Additionally, potassium is a critical electrolyte in heart impulses and contractions. Although bananas are recognized for their potassium content, it can also be found in sweet potatoes, carrots, and apricots. Along with heart-protective nutrients, fresh produce boosts total dietary fiber.

Healthy Fats and Lean Proteins
Replace saturated and trans fats with those 'healthy' fats to reduce and prevent heart disease. There are two types of healthy fats - monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids are a valuable polyunsaturated fat found in fatty fish and nuts and seeds. Choose olive oil, canola oil, vegetable and nut oils, avocados, and nuts and seeds and limit bacon fat, gravies, butter and lard, cream sauces, and coconut and cocoa butters. Also, naturally decrease saturated fat intake by consuming lean and vegetable proteins such as chicken, turkey, sirloin, and beans over processed and red meats.

For additional heart healthy food ideas, check out these 18 superfoods for your heart.

Key Heart-Health Points

• Fill the diet with wholesome ingredients - whole grains, fresh produce, lean proteins, and 'healthy' fats.

• Reduce the intake of saturated and trans fats, especially in prepackaged, processed foods. Stay clear of the words 'hydrogenation' and 'hydrogenated oil.'

• Choose vegetable and lean protein sources such as chicken, turkey, and beans, as they generally contain lower amounts of saturated fat than red meats. Red meats should be limited to two servings per week and processed meats should be consumed no more than one to two times per month.

• Limit sugary desserts and beverages. High sugar diets can lead to weight gain, a significant risk factor for developing heart disease.

• Keep sodium intake to no more than 2,400 milligrams per day. Naturally limit salt intake by reducing packaged and processed foods, taking advantage of the nutrition facts label, and ridding the salt shaker from the dinner table and while cooking.

• Keep portion sizes in check - half or split dinner entrees at restaurants, bulk meals with veggies, and practice mindful eating techniques.

Although the synergistic roles of each food and nutrient plays a role in heart protection, one of the largest benefits of a nutritious diet is weight loss and maintenance. Overweight and obese individuals have a greater chance of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease. Keeping weight in check can ultimately reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Along with diet, partaking in physical activity can further aid in cardiovascular health and weight maintenance. For further information on heart health, check out the American Heart Association's website. Additionally, the risk of heart disease may increase with advancing age. The National Institute on Aging explains the changes to the heart with aging.

Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on June 20, 2013. Updated on August 03, 2016.


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