As February comes to an end and we wrap up our focus on strong hearts, we wanted to share a few more tips for keeping your heart healthy. One of the most important things you can do to keep your heart strong is eating right. E. EXCEL is founded on the science of Nutritional Immunology, which is the idea that a healthy diet and good nutrition can support and strengthen the body’s systems, including the cardiovascular and immune systems.
Incorporating these simple ideas into your lifestyle is a great step forward to enjoying better health.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. An added bonus? They are usually pretty low in calories as well. Fruits and vegetables may also contain substances found in plants that specifically support the cardiovascular system.
Increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat is easy. Wash and cut up vegetables and store them in the fridge for handy, healthy snacks. Keep fruit in a bowl on the countertop so healthy eating is at arm’s reach. Add fruits and vegetables to meals as side dishes, or even choose recipes that have vegetables and fruits as the main ingredients.
- Watch your fat intake
A high-fat diet, especially one that includes saturated and trans fats, leads to high blood cholesterol and can increase our risk of heart attack and stroke. The solution is simple—limit the amount of saturated and trans fats you eat.
The American Heart Association recommends that less than 8 percent of your total daily calories should come from saturated and trans fats; that’s 16 grams of fat if you consume a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet.
An easy way to limit saturated and trans fats is to reduce the amount of butter, margarine and shortening you use when cooking, as well as choosing lean meats or trimming fat off meat. You can also use low-fat substitutions when possible for a heart-healthy diet.
When you do use fats, choose monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil or canola oil. Polyunsaturated fats, found in certain fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, also are good choices.
- Select low-fat protein
Lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products (such as skim milk instead of whole milk), and eggs are some of your best sources of protein. Fish is also a great low-fat protein choice. In addition to being low in fat, certain types of fish contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which can support healthy cardiovascular systems as well.
Beans, peas and lentils are also excellent sources of protein and contain less fat and no cholesterol. A soy bean or bean burger (instead of hamburger) is a great heart healthy option.
- Choose whole grains
Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that support a strong cardiovascular system. You can increase the amount of whole grains in a heart-healthy diet by making simple substitutions for refined grain products. Or be adventuresome and try a new whole grain, such as brown rice or quinoa.
- Reduce sodium
Eating a lot of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Reducing sodium is an important part of a heart-healthy diet. The Department of Health and Human Services recommend that healthy adults limit their daily sodium consumption to no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium (about a teaspoon of salt).
Although reducing the amount of salt we add to food while cooking or eating is a good first step, much of the salt we eat comes from canned or processed foods, such as soups and frozen dinners.
Another way to reduce the amount of salt we eat is to choose our condiments carefully. Many condiments are available in reduced-sodium versions, and salt substitutes can add flavor to food with less sodium.
- Control portion size
Finally, it’s not just what you eat that matters—you should also be aware of how much you eat. Loading your plate or taking seconds can lead to eating more calories than you should. Using a small plate or bowl can help control portions, as can eating larger portions of low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and smaller portions of high-calorie, high-sodium foods, such as refined, processed or fast foods.
February is a great month to focus on heart health, but ideally, we’re aware of our heart—and the things that we do to take care of our heart—all year long. A strong heart is an important part of living rich, fulfilling lives, and choices we make every day can be the difference.