Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. The term “heart disease” refers to several types of heart conditions. You can greatly reduce your risk for heart disease through lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medicine.
Sometimes when people suffer from coronary heart disease and blockages or suffer a heart attack, a physician will recommend a program called cardiac rehabilitation. A cardiac rehab program is recommended for people who have had a heart attack or heart failure, have undergone heart surgery, or had a heart transplant, stent or balloon angioplasty.
Many of these heart patients will trade habits for more heart-healthy choices following an event like a heart attack. By making slight adjustments to our diet and exercise routine, we can do ourselves a favor and take care of our heart health.
Allison Bridges, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian with more than 20 years’ experience in nutrition and dietetics.
She has worked in a variety of settings including acute care hospitals, university instruction, long-term care consulting and outpatient counseling. For the past five years, she has found her niche providing group education and individual counseling for patients in the cardiac and pulmonary rehab settings. In this role, she is able to help patients make healthy eating an enjoyable and natural part of their lifestyles.
Five Ways to Make Your Diet Heart-Healthy
Make your plate colorful.
Think about colorful fruits or vegetables to add to your meal. Those foods are nutrient dense but don’t have a lot of fat, sodium or calories.
Omega-3 fatty acids are shown to reduce risk of mortality from cardiovascular events as well as lower triglyceride levels and reduce inflammation. Sources of omega-3s include fish such as salmon and tuna as well as plants like flaxseed and walnuts.
Reduce sugar intake.
One easy way to reduce sugar intake is to limit the consumption of sugary beverages (sweet tea, soda, sports drinks) which have “empty calories” or offer little nutrition or satiety, the feeling of fullness.
Add soluble fiber.
Increase the feeling of being “full” or satisfied after eating by increasing the amount of minimally processed foods you eat such as choosing plant-based foods to get more fiber. Fiber aids in digestion and the feeling of satiety, which helps us to eat less junk food. Soluble fiber found in oats, legumes, lentils, peas and apples may also help lower cholesterol levels.
Limit sources of animal fat.
Fats from animal sources such as butter, cream, and fatty cuts of meat contain large amounts of saturated fat that may increase blood cholesterol levels. When cooking, replace butter with olive oil or avocado oil. For protein sources, choose plant proteins such as legumes or lean animal protein sources such as skinless poultry or fish most often.
Think about plant foods you can add to your diet and what colorful fruits and vegetables can be used to replace processed snacks or sides to benefit of our heart health. While it may be difficult to make extreme changes all at once, adding these plant-based options or making small adjustments can improve your heart health and lower risk of cardiac problems.
More resources from the Health Library:
Seven lifestyle changes to prevent heart disease
Take this 1-minute heart-health quiz to determine your heart health.
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