- Cardiovascular disease is a major killer in the U.S.
- However, dietary changes can reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
- Dietitians say to limit trans fat, saturated fat, and sodium.
- At the same time, include more heart-healthy foods like pulses, soy, nuts, and seeds.
- Meatless Mondays are a great way to get started, they say.
According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease (CVD) kills more people in the U.S. each year than all types of cancer combined.
It also kill more people than all types of chronic lower respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma.
Furthermore, between the years 2015 and 2018, 126.9 million Americans had some form of CVD, costing the healthcare system $226.2 billion and leading to $151.8 billion in losses due to lost productivity and premature deaths.
The Monday Campaigns note that there are three important risk factors associated with heart disease that can be controlled:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
Additionally, two of these factors — high blood pressure and high cholesterol — can be altered by diet.
In honor of February being American Heart Month, the organization is promoting several important dietary changes that people can make, which will reduce their risk for heart disease and improve their all-around health.
3 Foods that promote good heart health
Sharon Palmer — registered dietitian, author, and blogger at The Plant-Powered Dietitian — said there are many foods linked with good heart health, but specifically, the three that are best for your heart are:
- seeds and nuts
“Pulses and soy foods are rich in fiber, which can help reduce LDL blood cholesterol levels, glucose levels, and chronic inflammation,” said Palmer. “In addition, these fiber-rich foods can boost the gut microbiome, which has impacts on heart health.”
“Nuts and seeds also have fiber and phytochemicals, but they also contain heart-healthy unsaturated fats, which are shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels,” she added.
Samantha Cochrane, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, explained that what these foods all have in common is they are plant-based. “Plant-based foods, in general, will offer nutrients you want to have more of to benefit your cardiac health. These nutrients include unsaturated fats, fiber, and various phytochemicals.”
She suggests that you should shoot for eating a variety of plant foods as the best way to get the nutrients you need to support a healthy heart.
Foods that can negatively affect your heart health
“When it comes to … ways to eat heart healthy, making good choices is less about avoiding specific foods and more about awareness of certain nutrients and how much you eat of these things,” noted Cochrane.
She said it’s most important to avoid any foods with trans fats, which promote inflammation in the body.
Most foods do not contain trans fats, she explained, but foods that contain <0.5 g per serving may still be labeled as 0 g on the nutrition label, so look for the words “partial hydrogenated fat” in the ingredients list to make sure there’s really no trans fat present.
Another thing to keep an eye on is saturated fat, said Cochrane.
“When we look at research related to saturated fat in foods and heart health, we see that diets higher in this particular type of fat can be associated with higher cholesterol, potentially increasing cardiac risk,” she said.
Saturated fats are found in animal products, as well as tropical oils. Cochrane suggests choosing leaner meats and lower-fat dairy as well as limiting the amount of these foods you consume.
Watch your sodium intake, too
Sodium consumption is another thing she advises people to keep an eye on.
“With sodium, we see higher amounts in diets relate to higher blood pressure, also increasing cardiac risk,” she said.
According to Cochrane, the worst high sodium offenders are restaurant foods, shelf-stable foods, and ready-made meals.
“To lower sodium, we can cook more at home, choose low sodium options at grocery stores and make a bigger part of what we are eating low sodium foods,” she explained.
Meatless Mondays can help you work toward a healthy heart
Palmer said that Meatless Monday is a simple way you can make an impact on both your health and the health of the planet by eating plant-based just one day a week — Monday.
From there, you can work toward eating plant-based more days during the week.
“Go to the Meatless Monday website,” said Palmer, “and discover all of the resources available to you, such as recipes and tips. Then plunge in.”
She noted that many people do their grocery shopping on the weekends, which makes it easy to prioritize Monday as a day of healthy eating.
Palmer suggests keeping it simple with easy-to-prepare fare, such as tacos with black beans, hummus-filled sandwiches, or a grain bowl with edamame. Then, try a new recipe each week.
To get plenty of healthy fats, she recommends using unsaturated cooking oils like extra virgin olive oil as well as plant fats such as nut butters, olives, and avocados.
“Once you discover how easy it is, as well as delicious, it gets easier,” she said.
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