Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
Making healthy food choices is one important thing you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease—the leading cause of death of men and women in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, about 80 million adults in the U.S. have at least one form of heart disease—disorders that prevent the heart from functioning normally—including coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems, heart defects, infections, and cardiomyopathy (thickening or enlargement of the heart muscle).
Experts say you can reduce the risk of developing these problems with lifestyle changes that include eating a healthy diet. But with racks full of books and magazines about food and recipes, what is the best diet for a healthy heart? Follow these simple guidelines when preparing meals:
- Balance calories to manage body weight
- Eat at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day, including a variety of dark-green, red, and orange vegetables, beans, and peas.
- Eat seafood (including oily fish) in place of some meat and poultry
- Eat whole grains—the equivalent of at least three 1-ounce servings a day
- Use oils to replace solid fats.
- Use fat-free or low-fat versions of dairy products.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 suggests that Americans reduce their sodium intake. The general recommendation is to eat less than 2,300 mg. of sodium a day. But Americans 51 or older, African-Americans of any age, and people with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should restrict their intake to 1,500 mg. per day. The U.S. government estimates that half the U.S. population is in one of those three categories.
Here are some tips when eating out:
- Choose lean meats and poultry. Make sure they are baked, broiled or grilled, not fried.
- Read product labels on packaged foods and choose those low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol. The fats you eat should come from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, such as those found in fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
- Check product labels for foods high in potassium (unless you’ve been advised to restrict the amount of potassium you eat). Potassium counteracts some of the effects of salt on blood pressure.
- Choose foods and beverages low in added sugars. Read the ingredient list to make sure that added sugars are not among the first ingredients. Ingredients in the largest amounts are listed first. Some names for added sugars include sucrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, and fructose. The nutrition facts on the product label give the total sugar content.
- Choose to eat foods that provide dietary fiber, like fruits, beans, vegetables, and whole grains.
- For more tips on healthy eating see the American Heart Association website: heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating