Over the years, several heart-healthy diets have been developed to help prevent heart disease. Two classic heart-healthy diets include the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, but there are several more alternatives, including the most recent one by Dr. Juan Rivera known as the Mojito diet. While all these diets do differ slightly, they all recommend similar heart healthy foods and are effective in preventing heart disease. Most of these heart diets, including the DASH and Mediterranean diet, are backed by good clinical evidence. In addition, Dr. Rivera has published extensive material on the clinical benefits of his diet. For those who wish to prevent heart disease, here are some tips for eating heart healthy foods and finding the best heart healthy diet for your needs.
1. Limit the portion size. Today, we have an obesity epidemic, which is primarily because people eat too much food. Even when you go to restaurants, the food portions are huge and at fast-food restaurants, supersizing is the norm. All this can lead to excessive junk calories, which, in turn, can cause obesity and premature heart disease. The first step towards a heart-healthy diet is to limit the portion size. Some of the ways you can do this include the following:
- Use a small plate and small utensils. For example, if you are always adding 2 teaspoons of sugar to your coffee, decrease the sugar gradually to 1 teaspoon.
- Keep track of the number of servings you have; you do not always have to overfill your stomach.
- Avoid eating at buffets. More likely than not, the availability of such a huge variety of foods can easily cause you to overeat.
2. Eat many small meals or snacks, instead of 3 large meals, during the day. Select heart healthy foods. Today, there is ample evidence showing that a plant-based diet is healthier compared to a meat-based diet. Therefore, try to eat more fruits and vegetables instead of red meat. Plant-based foods are lower in calories, but yet contain all the essential nutrients and minerals that you need. Most fruits and veggies are healthy and nutritious. To avoid monotony, eat different types of fruits and veggies. Plus, vegetables with high fiber content will regulate your bowel movements and can even lower your blood sugar. Always keep some cut veggies and fruits in the fridge so that if you feel hungry, you can eat them to curb hunger pangs.
3. Avoid eating fast or processed foods. These foods are often fried in saturated fats and are rich in sugar, salt, and cholesterol. Worse, these foods are packed with junk calories and have little nutritional value.
4. Bake or steam foods. Instead of frying food, try baking or steaming. This avoids the use of oil, which, in high concentrations, can accelerate the process of atherosclerosis. Foods that you should limit include:
- Butter, margarine
- Breaded foods, like onion rings, shrimp, etc.
- Canned fruit loaded with heavy syrup
- Frozen fruits as these are often packed with sugar
5. Learn to read labels. One of the best ways to maintain a good heart-healthy diet is to read labels on food products. Note the amount of sugar, salt, and cholesterol in each food; you generally want to choose items with the least amount of additives. If the food item has no label, avoid it.
6. Love whole grains. One of the best heart healthy foods is whole grains. These foods are rich in unsaturated fatty acids, fiber, and many minerals. Healthy whole grain foods include whole-grain bread, whole wheat flour, barley, brown rice, quinoa, whole grain pasta, and oatmeal. Grains that you should avoid include refined white flour, muffins, doughnuts, white bread, biscuits, pies, desserts, and cakes.
7. Reduce unhealthy fats. Saturated fats are unhealthy for the heart because they increase atherosclerosis, which, in turn, can cause high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. The American Heart Association recommends that saturated fats should not make up more than 6 percent of your total calories, or 12 grams. To avoid intake of saturated fats, you can do the following:
- Always remove the excess fat from meats
- Avoid eating the skin of chicken, pork, lamb, as it is packed with saturated fats
- Avoid butter, margarine, and mayonnaise
- Read labels on sugary foods to determine the type of fat that is included
- Eat low-fat foods
- Select unsaturated oils, like canola or olive oil
- Other sources of unsaturated fats include nuts, certain fish, avocados, and seeds
- Because all fats are heavy in calories, limit the amount of oil in your food
8. Eat-in moderation. No matter what foods you eat, eat in moderation. Even the healthiest food can lead to excess calories. In general, an adult male should consume around 2,000 calories a day and females should get 1,800 calories per day.
9. Choose protein wisely. Instead of red meat, try to eat foods like low-fat dairy, eggs, chicken, and fish. Some fish are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids that can lower your blood cholesterol levels. Healthy fish include tuna, salmon, herring, and mackerel. Veggies that are low protein include legumes, lentils, and beans. These veggies are also rich in fiber.
10. Reduce salt. Consuming too much salt can cause high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The current recommendation by the American Heart Association (AHA) is that an adult should eat no more than 2,300 mg. of salt per day; less is better. Most of the salt in the diet comes from processed or canned foods – read the labels for the salt content. There are many salt-free products on the market today. Finally, select your condiments carefully as many are rich in salt and even sugar.
11. Plan ahead. A key reason why people overeat junk food when they arrive home is that there is no other healthy food in the home prepared to eat. To avoid eating junk food, plan ahead and always have veggies, low-fat dairy, nuts, and whole grains in the home. Have a variety of fruits, low-fat cheeses with crackers for the children, and do not keep any cola beverages in the home. Instead, stock the home with healthy fruit and vegetable juices.
12. Do not become fanatical about the heart diet. Most people give up on a healthy heart diet because they find it too boring. To counter this, allow yourself the occasional treat of a cheesecake, chocolate, or ice cream, but keep the portions small. Allowing yourself to eat foods outside your diet will help keep you motivated.
13. Exercise. Finally, to obtain the maximum benefits from a heart-healthy diet, you need to become physically active. There is no such thing as bad exercise. Even walking is a good exercise as long as you do it regularly. Exercise for 45-60 minutes 4-5 times a week. You can also swim, jog, cycle, or join an aerobics class.
For the best heart healthy diet, choose heart healthy foods. At Cano Health, we believe fully in proactive care for your health. We have wellness programs specifically devoted to seniors. And we have also put in place a Healthy Heart Program, led by Dr. Juan Rivera, a well-known expert in cardiovascular disease. Learn more about being proactive with your heart health today when you visit our Healthy Heart Page.