Your heart is one of the most important organs in your body, and when it comes to heart health, diet matters. An unhealthy diet can contribute to not only heart disease but other health issues outside the heart.
We can’t change our genetics – family history is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease that we inherited from mom and dad. But we can positively influence other potential risk factors by practicing portion control, moderation, and incorporating daily exercise into our routine. These modifiable risk factors can have a positive influence on your heart health and stop many health problems before they begin.
Here are a few eating choices that negatively impact heart health and some tips to modify for improved wellbeing.
Excessive salt in your diet makes your body retain fluid, which means your heart has to pump harder – this can lead to high blood pressure. Too much salt can also lead to thickening and weakening of the heart muscle, which can contribute to heart failure.
A healthy diet should be limited to 2,000 mg of salt or less, per day. Many Americans eat too much salt, but there are easy ways to reduce your intake.
● Read labels and look for the salt content in food, especially “hidden salt” in canned foods and frozen vegetables.
● When eating out, don’t be afraid to ask for a low-salt entrée.
● If you must salt your food, put a pinch in your palm and distribute it with your fingers rather than sprinkling directly from the shaker.
A diet high in saturated fat can create a “domino effect” on your health, contributing to buildup of triglycerides (the most common type of fat found in the body made from food and your own body), which contributes to high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes.
The main fats to limit are saturated fat and trans fat. Saturated fat should be limited to 10% of your daily fat intake. Easy ways to limit saturated fat include choosing chicken and fish over red meat, and baking or broiling instead of frying foods in oil. Low-fat alternatives, such as butter alternatives, soft cheese and skim milk can also reduce saturated fat intake. Reduce your intake of alcohol, especially beer, which contributes to elevated triglyceride levels.
Trans fats are commonly found in processed foods like baked goods and in fast food. It’s also found naturally in milk and beef. Any easy way to monitor and reduce the amount of trans fat in your diet by limiting foods with hydrogenated oils.
Your liver produces more cholesterol when you eat high-fat foods. Too much ingested cholesterol can raise the cholesterol levels in your blood. When this excess cholesterol can’t be broken down by the body, it combines with calcium, fat and other substances to form plaque. Plaque slowly builds up in the arteries, causing them to harden and narrow. This blockage can lead to heart disease, strokes, and heart attacks.
To control cholesterol, limit your intake of cholesterol to 200 mg a day. As with saturated fats, the easiest way to accomplish this is to follow a heart-healthy diet and avoid animal products, especially organ meats (like liver).
Excess sugars and carbohydrates increase your blood sugar, which can lead to obesity and increased risk of diabetes. Diabetes is a critical risk factor for heart disease, considered equivalent to coronary artery disease by health care professionals. Watch your overall sugar and carbohydrate intake to keep these risk factors in check.
It’s essential to maintain a well-rounded diet, but beyond that here are other steps you can take to boost your heart health:
● Remain active (at least 30 minutes per day)
● Monitor and manage your blood pressure and blood sugar
● Stop smoking and limit or eliminate alcohol consumption
● If you are on cholesterol or blood pressure medicine, follow the prescribed regimen
● Consult the American Heart Association website for more tips on leading a heart-healthy lifestyle
A healthy heart is vital to a healthy life. If you have a family history of heart problems, or believe yourself to be at risk for heart disease, schedule an appointment with VCS to discuss your heart health today.
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Published June 14, 2019