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What to Eat to Keep Your Heart Healthy

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we figured it would be a good time to discuss what we love with you all… Healthy living that is!

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States and one person dies of this disease every 37 seconds in the United States according to the CDC. Though this statistic may seem like it is inevitable, nearly 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable with a healthy lifestyle. Of course, we cannot change certain inherited risk factors but we can do our best to reduce our risk contracting heart disease through following certain guidelines for a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Avoiding the use of tobacco, daily exercise that elevates your heart rate, good sleep, managing stress levels, and regular screenings are all hugely important factors in keeping your heart healthy. And, as with nearly everything, diet is a major contributor to your risk of heart disease. Managing your diet can help protect your heart, improve blood pressure, and reduce your risk for other diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

However, with all of the various diet fads going around today, it can be so hard to determine what’s actually “healthy.” From Keto, to Paleo, to Atkins, to Vegan, it can all be so much to digest (pun intended)...

At 6AM Health, we’ve spent a lot of time learning about different eating styles and talking about our experiences with them. Broadly, we’ve come to the conclusion that “informed intuitive eating,” makes the most sense for many people. Now, that’s not all-encompassing by any means! But, we do think that learning about what foods are high in which nutrients and which foods are overly-processed and not-so great at keeping you fueled is important so that you can then go about your days eating without feeling overly restricted by the structure of a real “diet plan.” This requires you to make a conscious effort to put good things into your body, both to benefit you now but also future you!

With that being said, if you’re someone who wants to integrate a heart healthy diet into your life without necessarily having to follow a rigid diet plan, you’re in the right place! Here are some steps to keep your heart healthy via what you eat!

1. Avoid Unhealthy Fats, Increase Intake of Healthy Ones!

You may be saying in your head, okay sure, but what does that really mean? To put it simply, you want to take in more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats while avoiding trans fat and saturated fat.

What this means in terms of food is avoiding excess butter/margarine, and opting for the “low-fat” versions of things like cheese, yogurt, etc. But be careful to still always be checking the nutrition labels for these things because sometimes “low-fat” can really mean “a little less fat, a lot more sugar!”

Further, you want to be eating more food with the “good fats.” These include olive oil, fish, avocados, nuts, and seeds. But the key to this is balance! Even “good fats” are still high in calories so be mindful of portion sizes and amounts.

2. Go Easy on the Salt Shaker

Okay, this is hard for me to say because I am a true salt addict. I’ve never had a huge sweet tooth, rather it’s always been more of a “savory tooth." Chips, soup, soy sauce, you name it, if it’s salty I probably love it. Unfortunately, the American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults have no more than 2,3000 mg of salt a day. That’s only a teaspoon of salt!

One easy way to curb your salt intake is to eat more fresh foods. Canned, processed, and frozen foods are all loaded up with sodium so that they’ll taste good after being preserved for weeks, or even months! Cooking fresh foods and adding your own (unsalted) herbs and spices can help dramatically reduce your sodium intake, which is proven to help lower blood pressure.

3. Fruits and Veggies are Always a Good Idea

I feel like we all know this but we all kind of ignore it at the same time… Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals and they should be making up a huge portion, if not the majority of your diet. Also, with fresh fruits and veggies, you can eat so much more!

So, rather than having that brownie or the cheese and crackers, have a big fruit salad or some roasted veggies sprinkled with garlic and onion. It’s still important to limit your intake of sugars- even when they come from fruit- but you can certainly still enjoy them daily!

4. Eat More Whole Grains

Ditch the white, refined bread loaf and opt to have your sandwiches on whole-grain or whole-wheat bread! Whole grains contain fiber and other nutrients that are important in maintaining your heart health. Try to look for breads and cereals that contain 5 grams or more of fiber and avoid refined ones.

You can also integrate more whole grains into your diet by eating things like brown rice, buckwheat, whole grain pasta, and oatmeal. These are great substitutions for things like egg noodles, traditional pasta, and sugary cereals.

5. Be Mindful of Your Portion Sizes

Eyeballing serving sizes certainly requires some skill and practice. Portions we receive at restaurants are wildly disproportionate to what a true serving size for one person should be and, unfortunately that usually means more of the unhealthy stuff- not more of the healthy fats, lean proteins, fruits, and veggies. But with time, you can certainly hone this skill and start controlling portion sizes more effectively. Try to get comfortable with understanding nutrition labels and knowing what to look for based on what we've discussed earlier. Using a scale can be helpful to get an idea of how much you’re eating vs. what the recommended serving size is.Then, just keep track of how many servings you’re eating.

When in doubt, just make sure your plate is loaded up with more vegetables than anything else! You can never go wrong with eating more greens!

Let us know what you think of these tips and how they work for you! Comment below if you'd like to see some heart healthy recipes in a future blog!

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