Cardiovascular health is an important part to an individual’s overall well being. The cardiac diet is prescribed for those who are at great risk for a heart attack or who have already had one. Conditions that put an individual at risk for a heart attack are high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia, obesity, and previous heart attack; the diet that is recommended is one low in fat, particularly saturated fat, and includes a lot of fruits and vegetables. In addition, there are a few other guidelines that should be followed for a complete heart healthy diet.
Heart healthy guidelines
These are the guidelines to keeping your heart healthy. As you will begin to see, these dietary recommendations are great for anyone to follow.
Limit unhealthy fats and cholesterol
Limiting the amount of saturated and trans fat you eat can significantly reduce your risk of coronary artery disease and reduce blood cholesterol levels. Less than 7% of your total fat should come from the saturated type, and less than 1% should come from trans fat. Less than 300 mg of cholesterol a day is recommended for healthy adults, and less than 200 mg is recommended for those who are at risk for heart attack or heart disease. Saturated fat is abundant in animal foods, so eating leaner meats would be a better option. When cooking or baking, solid fats—butter, margarine, shortening—should be limited; choose olive oil, vegetable oil, trans fat free margarine, and cholesterol-lowering margarines. Use low fat substitutions for full fat items. Avoid foods with trans fat and with the ingredient “hydrogenated vegetable oil” because that is just a trans fat in disguise.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are very nutrient dense foods; they have a good helping of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and are low in calories and virtually fat free. Many of them also contain antioxidants, which can fight off damaging free radicals that cause heart disease. Choose fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables and low sodium canned vegetables when possible.
Whole grains contain important nutrients, including fiber, that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. Increase the amount of whole grains you consume by replacing at least half of your daily grains with whole grains. Good choices are flaxseed, whole wheat flour, whole wheat bread, high-fiber cereal (containing 5 grams or more of fiber), brown rice, barley, buckwheat, whole grain pasta, and oatmeal.
Choose low fat protein sources
The best sources of protein for a heart healthy diet are poultry, fish, lean meat, low-fat dairy products, legumes, soy, and egg whites or egg substitutes. Always choose lower fat options, like skim milk instead of whole or 2% milk; light or fat free yogurt instead of regular yogurt.
Reduce salt intake
For some people, eating large amounts of salt can lead to or worsen high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Healthy adults should eat less than 1 teaspoon (2,300 milligrams) daily. Many frozen and packaged foods contain a lot of sodium, so limiting these and eating more fresh foods will help with reducing salt intake a whole lot easier. If you buy canned soups or meals that are already prepared, look for low or reduced sodium options.
Control portion sizes
Not only do you need to know what foods to eat, but you also need to know how much to eat. It is important not to overdo it on the servings; fill your plate with smaller servings than normal, and you will probably feel full afterward. Eating big servings overloads you with unneeded calories, fat, and possibly cholesterol. Many people fill their plates to the brim and feel that they have to eat everything, whether or not they are hungry for it. Be careful in restaurants because serving sizes are about twice as big as they should be; share a meal with someone or take half home for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner.
Allow occasional indulgences
Completely depriving yourself of sweets is a big mistake because sooner or later, you will be in desperate need of one, and will most likely overeat if you haven’t had one for quite some time. It’s best to give yourself one weekly indulgence, but limit yourself to that one piece of chocolate or one scoop of ice cream. Just don’t overdo and you’ll be fine!
While this isn’t a food guideline to follow, planning ahead can save you time and calories. If you know what you are going to have for your next meal, you won’t be stuck in a situation that you are so hungry you will eat anything, and overeat. When making menus, choose low fat food items, plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources. This is a great idea for the whole family!