Heart disease is the number one cause of death in America.
What are Heart Healthy Foods?
Heart healthy foods are foods you eat that help to decrease your risk of and prevent heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Changing your eating habits is the first step you can take to living a longer, heart healthy life. The foods you eat and the way you prepare these foods is crucial to maintaining excellent heart health. Do you know what foods should you eat for a healthy heart?
Heart Healthy Foods
1. Fish Oil
Because salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout, and herring are fatty fish that contain large amount of fish oil, the American Heart Association’s recommended serving size of 3.5 ounces should be consumed at least two times a week. Fish oil is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and is considered the number one heart healthy food to incorporate in a heart healthy diet. For those that do not like or eat fish, flaxseed is another excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Ground flax seed can be mixed in coffee, oatmeal, cereal, and many other food and drinks without altering the flavor. These Omega-3 fatty acids can help lower your triglyceride levels. High levels of triglycerides are one 3 of the major factors that can potentially lead to heart disease.
2. Whole Grains
Whole grains are also important heart healthy foods to eat as part of a well-balanced heart healthy diet. Whole grains are excellent sources of dietary fiber and nutrients. While refined grains retain only the endosperm, whole grain contains the germ, endosperm and bran. They help to regulate blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and lower your risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke, obesity, and diabetes. It is recommended by the American Heart Association to consume twenty-five grams of fiber every day.
**Whole grains to consider adding to your heart healthy diet include oatmeal (steel-cut or regular), whole wheat flour, brown rice, whole grain barley, whole grain pasta, and whole grain breads. If you make your own whole grain bread, try mixing some ground or whole flaxseeds in the dough.
** Grains to avoid include white refined flour, muffins, pies, cakes, white bread, and biscuits. Be careful not to confuse whole grain and whole wheat.
3. Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are heart healthy foods that are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Because variety matters, it is important to switch it up and eat a variety of different fruits and vegetables every day. The American Heart Association recommendation is to eat four and a half cups of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.
** When choosing fruits and vegetables, fresh or frozen are the best heart healthy foods. If you must use canned vegetables, select low-sodium varieties. Canned fruit that’s packed in juice or water is also acceptable.
** Avoid, or consume in small amounts, coconut, frozen vegetables with creamy sauce, fried vegetables, breaded vegetables, canned fruit in heavy syrup, and frozen fruit that has added sugar mixed in.
While it is important to limit the amount of fats you consume, it is even more important to choose the correct fats when cooking and preparing your favorite heart healthy foods. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may even help to lower your blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke when chosen over saturated fats.
** The best monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats to choose from include olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados.
** Saturated fats to avoid and limit include butter, lard, bacon fat, gravy, and hydrogenated margarine. Many fried foods contain high amounts of saturated fats.
5. Dairy Products
Since whole-fat dairy products and food products that are made with whole milk and 2% milk contain saturated fat, they should be consumed in limited amounts. However, this does not mean you should avoid all dairy products. Low-fat dairy products are excellent alternative options that can lower high blood pressure and help reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease in both male and female adults.
6. Poultry and Meat
Lean, trimmed, skinless chicken and turkey are better heart healthy food options that fatty, skin covered cuts. As a general rule, lean meats are heart healthier options. This includes lean beef labelled as “choice” or “select” and ground beef with less then 15% fat. Ham and processed lunch meats contain larger amounts of sodium. If you choose to eat theses meats, look for low-sodium options.
Because fried food usually contain high levels of saturated fats, baking and grilling your meat and fish are the best heart healthy food options. Cooking vegetables can reduce the amount of vitamins and nutrients they contain. For this reason, eating fresh or steamed vegetables are the best options for a heart healthy diet. Often, baked goods contain large amounts of saturated fats. Instead of baking a cake or pie for dessert, opt for a piece of fresh fruit or a colorful fruit salad.
The first step to reducing your risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure is to change your eating habits. Limit your salt and sugar intake, eat large amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, eat whole grains and lean or extra lean cuts of meat, choose your fats wisely, and eat lots of fruits and veggies. Following these simple rules and eating the heart healthy foods listed above is just the beginning of a leading an active, heart healthy lifestyle.
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