Our heart is such an amazing organ! It pumps blood and oxygen via our arteries throughout the body. For optimal circulation, these arteries must be clear and free from obstruction. But a diet high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol promotes plaque build up in our arteries that can prevent adequate blood flow. To counteract this, it is important to eat a heart healthy diet. If you’re wondering how to do this, read below!
Meal planning & eating for heart health should focus on 5 things:
- Eating the right type and proper amount of fat
- Limiting your salt intake
- Increasing dietary fiber
- Limiting added sugar
- Choosing lean cuts of meat
Types and Amount of Fat
There are different types of fats:
- Saturated fat: comes from animal sources like the skin and fat on meats, butter, shortening, processed foods and snacks.
- Trans fat: are found in processed foods and fried foods.
- Unsaturated fat: comes from plant sources like olives and olive oil, avocado, omega-3 fatty acids, nuts and seeds.
Consuming more unsaturated fats and limiting the amount of saturated and trans fats can decrease the chance of plaque buildup in our arteries.
It is important to have the right amount of fat in your diet. Fat helps absorb certain vitamins and helps with hormone production. Generally, 25-35% of your daily calories should come from fat. For instance, if you are consuming 1600 calories each day, 45-60 grams of fat is recommended.
What does that look like? One tablespoon of olive oil is approximately 13.6 grams of fat. If you added a tablespoon of olive oil to two cups of salad greens for lunch, you would still have 30-45 grams of fat you can consume the remainder of the day.
Processed and/or packaged foods tend to be higher in salt. If you eat more foods and snacks that come out of a can or bag, frozen dinners, ready-to-eat baked goods and breads, then your diet is most likely high in salt. Cooking with salt or salt-containing seasonings, or adding salt to your foods before eating, can also cause total salt intake to spike.
For good heart health, it is recommended that you consume no more than 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon) of salt each day. This includes the salt you add to your foods and the sodium content of the food itself. When cooking or seasoning your foods, skip the salt and instead choose Mrs. Dash, Papa Dash, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and/or herbs and spices like rosemary, lemon, dill, oregano, cinnamon, cumin, and turmeric.
Increasing Dietary Fiber
Fiber is a carbohydrate that your body can’t break down, so it passes through the body undigested. It comes in two varieties: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains, wheat cereals, and vegetables like carrots, celery, and tomatoes. Soluble fiber sources include barley, oatmeal, beans, nuts, and fruits like apples, berries, citrus fruits, and pears.
Fiber’s role in preventing heart disease is thought to stem from its ability to lower both blood pressure and cholesterol. It also fills you up, which helps you eat less and in turn, lose weight. Look for brands with at least 6 grams of fiber per serving.
Limiting Added Sugar
Sugars in your diet can be naturally occurring or added. Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods such as fruit (fructose and glucose) and milk (lactose). Added sugars are added to foods during preparation, processing, or at the table.
Limiting added sugar intake can help lower blood pressure by increasing dilation of blood vessels. It is recommended by the American Heart Association to limit intake of added sugars to 6 teaspoons/day for women and 9 teaspoons/day for men. The major sources of added sugars are sugary beverages, candy, desserts and sweet snacks.
Choosing Lean Cuts of Meat
The American Heart Association recommends choosing healthy sources of protein, mostly from plant sources, with the addition of some animal-based products as well. Fish and shellfish are good sources of protein. The omega-3 fatty acids in certain fish actually have health benefits, including reducing triglycerides, blood pressure and reducing inflammation. Plant foods that contain protein include beans, peas, lentils and nuts. There are many types of beans – pinto, kidney, garbanzo, edamame– and they’re all good for you! If you eat poultry, pork, beef or other meats, choose a leaner cut of meat, skinless poultry, and unprocessed forms. Also watch portion sizes!
One portion of cooked meat is three ounces. Below is what 3 oz portions look like:
- a piece of meat about the size of a deck of cards
- a small chicken drumstick or thigh
- 3/4 cup of flaked fish
- 2 thin slices of lean roast beef
How We Can Help
Making a change, no matter how small, is hard! This is especially true when you don’t know where to start. At Anderson’s Nutrition, a Registered Dietitian can give you the education, support, supplement recommendations and guidance you need to keep your heart in great shape! We can create an individualized nutrition plan that serves as your guide, keeps you accountable, and leads to improved health outcomes. Not only can we provide you with nutrition guidance, we can also help you reach your exercise goals as well!
In addition, to make food prep and planning hassle-free, we have an incredible meal planning app that provides recipes, grocery lists, and nutrition facts that make eating heart healthy a lot easier! Your heart will thank you if you start healthier meal planning today. Try one of our many programs, including the Mediterranean Diet, Dash Diet and more!
Ready to get started? Contact a dietitian today!