Insights & Actions for Healthy Living
8 Things You Can Do Today to Make Heart Health a Priority

8 Things You Can Do Today to Make Heart Health a Priority

As we celebrate Heart Health Month and focus our attention and meal plates on our heart health, it is time to take action.

We’ve been hearing for years we should be ‘heart healthy’ but what does that mean when we go grocery shopping or try to get dinner on the table for our busy families?

There are new research guidelines coming out almost every day, it seems, and what we thought was the best eating plan has changed lately.

The recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans have shifted and now encourage us all to develop a healthy eating plan and de-emphasize one food or group of foods as ‘bad’ for us. It is the sum total of our food choices based on our risk factors and the health goals on which we should be focusing our eating habits.

Still, We Have Questions

But what about fat and cholesterol? Should we eat coconut oil, vegetable oil, olive oil or some combination of all types of oil? Is butter or margarine off the table? How much fiber, salt and fish do I need?

These and others are all unanswered questions with which we struggle while we try to feed our families and stay on budget.

Let’s look at the most advised types of heart healthy diets and what we can all do today to make heart health our priority!

DASH Diet

This diet encourages not just diet but a lifestyle of wellness. It has been shown to lower blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol and can help lower weight when physical activity is combined with a healthier meal pattern.

LDL cholesterol and elevated blood pressure are both significant risk factors for heart disease.

The DASH eating plan is based on 2,000 calories a day with servings from these foods:

  • 6-8 servings of whole grains
  • 6 or less servings of meat, fish, poultry
  • 4-5 servings EACH of fruits and vegetables
  • 2-3 low fat dairy products
  • 2-3 servings of fats and oils (reducing saturated fat, eliminating trans fat and replacing with unsaturated fats)
  • 2,300 mg of sodium (to better lower blood pressure aim for 1,500 mg)

This meal pattern will help us improve the nutritional quality of the foods we choose by increasing intake of fiber, protein, plus vitamins and minerals including potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

Mediterranean Diet

A lifestyle more than a ‘diet,’ as all heart healthy eating plans should be considered, this plan is a compilation of the best parts of meals from the people living in the Mediterranean region of the world.

It includes:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Whole grains, beans, nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh herbs and spices in place of sodium
  • Fish and seafood at least twice a week
  • Eat occasionally: poultry, eggs, cheese
  • Limit: red meat and sweets
  • Enjoy a glass of wine but get physical activity every day

You set your own calorie level for your desired weight management, incorporate the foods of that region in recipes for new items, and begin to enjoy the flavors of the food you eat.

MIND Diet

Want to improve not just your heart health but potentially avoid cognitive loss?

The MIND diet has been linked through growing research to help reduce the risk of cognitive loss, especially Alzheimer’s disease. It is a combination of the DASH and Mediterranean eating plans.

We are learning more each day how the heart and brain are connected. What is bad for the heart is also bad for the brain including blood lipids. An eating pattern that is good for vascular health supports brain health and reduces the risk of vascular dementia according to research.

The MIND diet encourages:

  • Green leafy vegetables, all fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains daily
  • Beans every other day
  • Fish once a week
  • Berries and poultry twice a week
  • Olive oil
  • Wine once glass a day
  • Limit: red meat, sweets, fried or fast food
  • Limit: once a day or less 1 Tablespoon butter or stick margarine
  • Limit: once a week or less of cheese

What Can We Do Today?

These 8 actions can make heart health a priority in our lives.

  1. Add whole fruit and vegetables to every meal.
  2. Add fish to the menu twice a week, preferably those varieties that are high in omega 3 fatty acids like salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, etc.
  3. Join Meatless Monday and start to substitute plant based proteins into meals to reduce overall fat.
  4. Begin to renovate favorite recipes. Cut down on added fat, salt and excess calories. Unsure how to do that? Submit your recipes for a free Recipe Renovation today!
  5. Cut out the salt shaker! Get to know and love the spice rack to flavor food without sodium!
  6. Read food labels and avoid those items with high sodium content per serving (greater than 5% DV)
  7. Move it! Physical activity in combination with diet changes will improve heart health.
  8. Get a health checkup and know your numbers. We need to know where our personal risk factors are so that we can attack them. Is our blood pressure high or or maybe blood lipids?

Some of these items are not difficult — it will just take a mindful commitment to you and your family’s health.

Shutting the door on salt also might take a little adjustment especially if you regularly salt your food even before you taste it. Your taste buds will change in time to savor new flavors!

Being knowledgeable about our health risk, learning our numbers and exercising control over our lifestyle will improve our heart health so we can enjoy the life in our years!

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