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5 Eating Tips for a Healthy Heart


Taking care of your heart by eating healthy is not that difficult once you understand what it all means. A nutritionist explained. Nearly a third of all deaths in the world can be attributed to heart disease. But many of these deaths are preventable, according to emerging evidence showing a link between diet and heart disease.

In fact, says Michigan Medicine Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Faith Blair, "The food you eat can affect many aspects of heart health, including blood pressure, inflammation and cholesterol levels, all of which are risk factors for heart disease."Blair, who advises cardiovascular patients about heart-healthy nutrition, shares five tips for minimizing the risk of heart disease related to the foods you eat.

1. Pay attention to nutrition labels.

As you probably know, the nutrition labels on food packaging look a little different now. Many of the FDA's changes to nutrition labels, passed earlier this year, were made to help reduce chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease.

Its goal is to help consumers become more aware of what they eat and how it affects their health. Have you ever eaten more than one serving size from a snack container? Now, companies are required to disclose the number of calories per serving as well as the number of servings per package.

The new label lists fats to limit because of their association with cardiovascular disease, including saturated fat and cholesterol.These have been identified as nutrients Americans don't consume enough of, such as vitamin D and potassium.

2. Identify healthy fats.

There are two types of natural fats, saturated and unsaturated fats, and fats that are synthetically made called trans fats.

All fat molecules have long tails which may be saturated (fully filled with hydrogen atoms) or unsaturated (not fully filled with hydrogen atoms). When the fatty acid tail is filled with hydrogen, or saturated, it becomes stiff and stiff. A stiff tail can block arteries and lead to heart disease, Blair explained. Saturated fats are solid and found in rich foods such as butter, milk, and marbled meat.

Comparatively, the unsaturated fatty acid tails are not rigid and can move or flow. Unsaturated fats are called healthy fats because they provide an antioxidant effect in the body while still releasing fluids. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are found in vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, and fish.

Trans fats are made synthetically and cause an increased risk of heart disease. It has now been required by law to be removed from America's food supply.

3. Find flavorful alternatives to salt.

Many patients with cardiovascular disease are encouraged to discard salt shakers. Too much salt can increase blood pressure, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

However, heart patients aren't the only ones who need to be aware of how much sodium they eat each day. The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day, far more than the recommended 2,300 milligrams (about 1 teaspoon). In addition to increasing blood pressure, a salty diet can put you at risk for enlarged heart muscle, heart failure, kidney disease, and osteoporosis.

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of the sodium we consume is already in our diets, especially processed foods. Sodium is prevalent in the American diet because it is used to preserve much of the food we eat, so reading nutrition labels is an important way to find out how much salt you are consuming.

Since most canned foods are high in sodium, Blair recommends sticking to frozen or fresh vegetables. However, make sure to avoid frozen vegetables with added sauce. Buying fresh meat and freezing it yourself can reduce sodium intake by at least 25%. Salt is also found in many spice mixes and boxed items.

Instead, make your own seasonings without salt. Blair recommends trying garlic and onion powder, coriander, cumin or paprika to add flavor to your meals.

And even though the salt we sprinkle on our food at the dinner table is not the main cause of our high sodium intake, we should still avoid adding it to our diets.

4. Avoid unhealthy processed foods.

Processed foods are technically any food that has been altered from its original state, but not all processed food is bad for you, explains Blair. For example, cut orange melon can be viewed as a processed food because it has been altered from its original state, but is still a healthy choice, he said.

However, what most of us perceive as processed food is unhealthy because it is chemically processed and made from processed ingredients and artificial substances, Blair said. Processed foods are usually very high in sodium, contain artificial ingredients, can be high in refined carbohydrates and tend to be lower in nutrients and fiber. Processed foods are convenient, but they can also cause health problems.

For optimal heart health, Blair's patients focus on single ingredient food combinations that do not contain chemical additives. They prefer fresh over processed food whenever possible. Some of the healthiest choices include green leafy vegetables, whole grains, berries, walnuts and almonds, fatty fish and dried nuts, he says. Olive oil, garlic, avocado and edamame are also among some of the healthiest foods to add to your daily diet.

5. Adopt a healthy plant-based diet.

A healthy plant-based diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and healthy oils. This limits animal protein such as meat, milk and eggs, as well as highly refined foods such as bleached flour and refined sugar.

But a plant-based diet isn't always healthy if you are full of foods like refined grains, potatoes, and sugar-sweetened drinks. Researchers have shown a limited increase in cardiovascular disease when individuals become vegetarians but continue to eat unhealthy plant foods, Blair explained.

Following a healthy plant-based diet can improve heart health, help you feel more energized, reduce your risk of developing other health conditions such as diabetes, and help you achieve a healthy weight.

Researchers have also found that a healthy, plant-based diet improves cardiovascular conditions such as angina (chest pain) and atherosclerosis, which occurs when arteries become narrowed or clogged due to a buildup of cholesterol-containing substances called plaques. This is due to the rich fiber, vitamins and minerals that a plant-based diet provides.

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