Eat for a Healthy Heart

Heart healthy eating can reduce risk for heart attack and tastes great too

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

Understanding the basics about heart-healthy foods and how they work makes planning a heart-healthy diet for your family fast and easy.

Eat your vegetables and fruits

Parents have been pushing children to eat fruit and vegetables for generations, and with good reason — they are chock-full of the vitamins and minerals your body and heart needs. Fruits and vegetables are lower in calories and high in dietary fiber, but that isn’t all.

Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants, which help remove free radicals from the bloodstream where they can damage cells. Free radicals are molecules created by the body as it breaks down food as well as through exposure to tobacco smoke or radiation.

Eating fruits and vegetables can also help you eat less high-fat food, such as red meats and cheese. But not all sources of fruits and vegetables are helpful. The best sources of fruits and vegetables include the following:

  • Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Low-sodium canned vegetables
  • Canned fruit packed in juice or water (with no added sugar)

Try to avoid vegetables that are served with a creamy sauce, fried or breaded vegetables, canned fruits packed in heavy syrup and frozen fruit with added sugar.

Swim upstream for omega-3 fatty acids

The American Heart Association recommends that we eat fish twice a week in order to get a healthy amount of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated fat in some fish. Omega-3 fatty acids may lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, decrease stroke and heart attack risk and decrease triglycerides, a type of fat found in your blood.

The recommended serving size is 3.5 ounces of omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish — about the size of a deck of playing cards. These are some of the more common options:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Trout
  • Tuna
  • Herring
  • Sardines

Some fish, like tilapia and catfish, have higher levels of unhealthy fatty acids and are not as good for your heart. It is also important to understand that deep frying any fish will lower its benefit to the heart.

Going with whole grain and oats

Chances are good that you already eat a lot of grains, but if you are like many people, you are eating too much of the wrong kind of grains. The latest guidelines for Americans recommend that at least half of your grain intake is whole grain.

Whole grain is how the grain is found in nature, before the bran and germ is removed in the milling process. Whole grain takes many shapes and sizes and includes brown rice and popcorn. Whole grain retains all of its fiber and other important nutrients like potassium and magnesium, and oatmeal helps lower the level of bad cholesterol in your blood.

Whole grains can also be found as ingredients in items like buckwheat pancakes and whole wheat bread and pasta, which keeps the beneficial nutrients of the whole grain. The following are examples of whole grain:

  • Barley
  • Brown Rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Oatmeal
  • Wild rice
  • Couscous
  • Flaxseed
  • Quinoa

Whole grain is not a natural source of folic acid, and eating whole grains exclusively can lead to a deficiency of folic acid, an important form of vitamin B. It is especially important that pregnant women or women who may become pregnant eat a healthy amount of folic acid rich foods like fruits, vegetables and beans.

Adding heart-healthy foods to your diet is a great start towards a healthier heart, other ways to help include managing the portion size of meals,  reducing your sodium intake and limiting unhealthy fats and cholesterol.  Eating with your heart in mind only takes a little planning and a sew changes so get started on a healthier you today.

Review Date: 
April 14, 2014