The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S. In fact, every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. Luckily, there are several things you can do to create a better, heart-healthy lifestyle. Some of these items include things such as weight management, regular physical activity, cutting out smoking and alcohol (or drinking in moderation). Equally as important, however, is maintaining a heart-healthy diet.
How Diet Affects You Heart Health
A diet full of foods that are good for your heart can help to prevent and manage heart disease, lowering your risk for both heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association says a healthy diet is one of your best weapons against cardiovascular disease. The foods you consume, as well as the portion size, can directly affect your risk for these ailments:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
If you have already experienced heart complications, it is never too late to turn that around and change your habits. Eating healthy foods will help you recover and reduce your risk of more heart problems. Certain foods that increase your heart disease risk should be cut out of your diet. We know it is often tough to change your eating habits, but it is so worth it to promote your personal health. Even better, healthy eating doesn’t have to mean bland and boring. Once you know which foods to eat more of and which foods to limit, you'll be well on your way toward a heart-healthy diet.
Fresh vs. Processed: Making a Change
In this day in age, we all live fast-paced lives, and everything is ready-made, especially the foods we eat. You need to be aware of what you consume, especially what you eat in abundance. After we discuss what foods to be incorporating into your diet (and which foods to avoid) that will give you a good place to start in determining what you need to change in your diet, specifically what foods you need to start cutting out. Taking these steps will likely save you from having heart problems in the future or help to prevent further complications. In simplest terms, you need to eat natural foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If you check the food pyramid, these foods make up the most of a healthy diet.
While many foods are made for quick and easy consumption, coming pre-packaged and processed, these are generally foods you will want to avoid. The nutrients you gain from fresh (as opposed to processed) foods are more easily absorbed in the bloodstream and quickly converted into energy. When your metabolism increases, you store less fat in your body and you are, therefore, not as prone to heart disease. While eating fresh foods may take some extra time and preparation, it also tastes better and does numbers on improving your health (and will even help you lose weight). This simply means you need to get more organized both when you go to the grocery store and in your preparation. Many items can be made ahead of time and frozen or refrigerated so that they can be consumed later in the week.
The most recent recommendations for a healthy heart consist of various targets that must be attained day after day, so as to lower your risk of heart disease and stroke and prevent relapse. Let’s dive in to what guidelines we should be following when it comes to choosing what to eat.
Heart-Healthy Eating General Guidelines:
- Proper daily calorie intake, to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
- Optimal intake of vitamins and minerals, especially sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium
- Optimal intake and distribution of carbs, including fiber, fats and proteins
- Optimal intake of good fats (monounsaturated, polyunsaturated) and optimal omega-6 / omega-3 ratio
- No trans fat, and limited amounts of saturated fats and added/concentrated sugars
- Appropriate number of servings of each of the food groups
- Adequate intake of foods that are specifically recommended (see list below)
- Adequate intake of foods that need to be limited (see list below)
- Eat vegetables, whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds every day
- Choose healthier fats and oils
- Aim for two to three serves of fish and seafood per week
- Limit fried, processed or baked foods, especially chips, biscuits, cakes and other baked cereal products
- Use salt in moderation or avoid it altogether
- Drink mainly water; avoid sugar-sweetened drinks
Mindful of Minerals
But eating healthy isn’t just about fresh foods but more specifically, what minerals are found in each of the foods. When it comes to nutrients, we need certain minerals for optimal heart health/ These include magnesium, calcium and potassium. These minerals are also called electrolytes and have important jobs—they regulate your nerve and muscle functioning, your body’s hydration, and your blood pressure, and they help to rebuild damaged tissue.
Calcium: Good sources of calcium include yogurt, kefir and low-fat dairy products, collard greens, organic tempeh, and sardines and salmon with bones.
Magnesium: Good sources of magnesium include spinach, Swiss chard, peas, organic tempeh, whole grains, pumpkin seeds and salmon.
Potassium: Good sources of potassium include squash, sweet potato, broccoli, banana, lentils, low-fat dairy products and deep-sea fish such as flounder or halibut.
Focus on These Foods
When it comes to specific foods, we have created a list below for you to follow. Remember, fresh is best so eating fruits and veggies raw or making meals that use fresh ingredients is always going to be your best bet. Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals, as well as amino acids which are necessary to keep your system functioning efficiently. They are low in fat and sodium, but high in fiber, which helps flush away toxins from your body. Eating fruits and vegetables can even help moderate your blood sugar levels.
Whole grain foods, such as wild rice, barley, brown rice and whole wheat, contain endosperm, which is where the healthy components are stored. Fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fats from these foods work together to boost the heart's performance.
Fish and seafood are good choices because they are low in calories and high in essential unsaturated fats. (about 4 times a week). Red meat, on the other hand, is a significant source of saturated fats, which must be limited. (once or twice a week)
The Heart Healthy Foods List:
WHAT FOODS TO INCLUDE IN YOUR DIET…
Fruits & Vegetables
- Bok choy
- Bell peppers
- Ground flaxseed
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
- Ground flaxseed
- Hemp Seed
- Chia seeds
- Olive oil
- Nuts: almonds, walnuts, pistachios, peanuts and macadamia nuts
- Soy: milk, tofu
- Citrus fruits: oranges, grapefruit
- Dark Chocolate
- Oatmeal and other whole grains
- Green Tea
WHAT FOODS TO AVOID IN YOUR DIET…
- Trans fats
- Excess sodium
- Excess sugar
- Saturated fats
And now that we have covered all of that great information we thought we would leave you with a few ideas of what some heart-healthy recipes can look like for each meal of the day!
BREAKFAST: Steel Cut Oatmeal With Fresh Fruit
- 1 cup steel-cut oats
- 2 cups unsweetened, original soy milk
- 1 cup water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- raw sliced almonds
- 1/2 banana, thinly sliced
- ½ apple, chopped into small squares
- ½ cup blueberries
- brown sugar
- Add oatmeal, soymilk, water, vanilla extract, and salt into medium saucepan.
- Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce to medium-low heat, allowing oatmeal to simmer (with lid on) for 20-30 minutes (depending on desired consistency).
- Remove from heat and serve. Top with sliced raw almonds, sprinkle of brown sugar, and drizzle of maple syrup. If desired, add a splash of cold milk on top.
- Refrigerate leftovers and reheat in microwave.
- Play with different ingredients to switch things up. Try substituting different fruits, walnuts for almonds, maple syrup for honey, etc.
- For Heart Patients: The FDA recommends 3 grams a day of beta glucan for those that are diagnosed with heart disease. If you don’t have heart disease, incorporate oats into your diet a couple times a week. Steel cup oat contain 3gm/half cup.
LUNCH: Chicken Cauliflower Fried "Rice"
- 1 teaspoon peanut oil plus 2 tablespoons, divided
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced, whites and greens separated
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces
- ½ cup diced red bell pepper
- 1 cup snow peas, trimmed and halved
- 4 cups cauliflower rice (see Tip)
- 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
- Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large flat-bottomed carbon-steel wok or large heavy skillet over high heat. Add eggs and cook, without stirring, until fully cooked on one side, about 30 seconds. Flip and cook until just cooked through, about 15 seconds. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into ½-inch pieces.
- Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan along with scallion whites, ginger and garlic; cook, stirring, until the scallions have softened, about 30 seconds. Add chicken and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add bell pepper and snow peas; cook, stirring, until just tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer everything to a large plate.
- Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan; add cauliflower rice and stir until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes.
- Return the chicken mixture and eggs to the pan; add tamari (or soy sauce) and sesame oil (if using) and stir until well combined. Garnish with scallion greens.
- Look for prepared cauliflower rice (or cauliflower crumbles) with other prepared vegetables in some supermarkets. To make your own, place cauliflower florets in a food processor and pulse until broken down into rice-size granules. One 2-pound head of cauliflower yields about 4 cups of cauliflower rice.
- This will make enough for four servings. Divide into containers and freeze for an easy-to-grab, on-the-go lunch.
DINNER: Almond-Crusted Salmon with Ginger Grapefruit Glaze
- 2 teaspoons coconut oil
- 2 wild salmon fillets (about 6 oz/170 g each)
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons almond meal
Gingered Grapefruit Relish:
- 1 teaspoon reserved grapefruit juice
- 1 teaspoon honey (more or less to taste)
- 1 pinch dried ginger
- 1 pinch black pepper
- 1 small pinch sea salt
- 1 grapefruit, supremed with juice reserved (see note below for directions how to supreme a grapefruit)
- 4 cups (4 oz/115 g) mixed salad greens
- 1 scallion, white and green parts, thinly sliced
- For the salmon, heat the coconut oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Season the salmon with salt and pepper and sprinkle the almond meal on both sides, pressing it in. When the skillet is hot, add the salmon and cook until browned, about 2 minutes on each side, then cover the skillet, turn off the heat, and leave it for 3 minutes to steam the inside of the fish.
- For the grapefruit relish, mix together 1 teaspoon grapefruit juice with the honey, ginger, pepper and salt in a small bowl. Stir in the grapefruit segments.
- To assemble the salads, divide the salad greens between 2 plates; place each piece of salmon in the center of each plate. Divide the grapefruit relish between the 2 plates and sprinkle the scallion on top. Serve immediately.