Best Ways to Make Your Diet Heart Healthy
February is American Heart Month, which means it’s a great time for an overview of your diet. Take a few minutes to see what you could be doing to make sure most of your meals are hitting that heart-healthy mark. You might shy away from taking stock like this, thinking that adding good-for-your-heart foods mean learning complicated recipes or buying a lot of things from the grocery store that you don’t normally add to your cart. In reality, a little bit of planning is the key to creating any successful eating pattern, and fixing foods aimed at heart health is no different. Once you are ready to do that – and make a few easy tweaks in the kitchen – you’ll be on your way to a healthier diet.
Here are a few ways to get started:
Cut the sugar. Whether you’re talking about a can of soda, a slice of dessert or an extra side of ketchup, your goal should be to reduce the number of foods and drinks you are consuming that have refined sugars and carbohydrates. These can raise your triglycerides, which may cause hardening of your artery walls. If this happens, your risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease increases. Some tips for cutting back on sugar:
- Switch to whole grain versions of your favorite foods. For example, buy boxes of whole wheat pasta instead of regular white pasta.
- Make desserts and pastries once-in-a-while treats, not part of your everyday food lineup.
- Stop drinking sodas and sweetened tea. It’s one of the fastest ways to improve your diet.
Pack in the fiber. Eating foods rich in fiber with each meal can help reduce your LDL or “bad” cholesterol. And because fiber keeps you feeling full, it can help you lose weight. Fiber comes from vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes like beans and lentils. Most adults in the U.S. eat about 15 grams of fiber each day, far below the recommended 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.
Here are ways to increase the amount of fiber you’re getting each day:
- Start your day with a fiber-rich breakfast. A cup of oatmeal has 4 grams, while a cup of raspberries has 8 grams. Prefer avocado toast for breakfast or lunch? One avocado has 10 grams of fiber.
- Choose whole fruits over fruit juices.
- Snack on air-popped popcorn instead of chips.
- Aim to eat a combination of five fruits and vegetables every day.
Watch the saturated fat. Fettuccine alfredo from your favorite restaurant might be delicious, but if you check the leftover container the next day, you’ll likely find it congealed into a blob. That’s the butter, cream and other saturated fats at work. Saturated fats can be found in things like fatty meats, coffee creamers, dairy foods and pastries. Eating too many of these can increase your cholesterol levels.
If you are following a typical 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, the American Heart Association recommends that no more than 6% of your daily calories come from saturated fats. How to keep that number low? Here are a few suggestions:
- Choose low-fat dairy products.
- Remove skin from chicken before you cook it.
- Use olive or canola oils instead of butter.
Don’t forget to treat yourself. A little indulgence once in a while can give you a mental boost and help you stay on track.
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