Make Your Heart Happy with a Heart Healthy Diet

In addition to regular cardiovascular exercise and quitting tobacco use, making heart healthy diet choices is an important action that will reduce your risk of heart disease.  Making your diet heart healthy doesn’t have to be overwhelming.  Here’s how you get started. While some superfoods specifically benefit your cardiovascular system, your overall approach to eating for a healthy heart is as simple as emphasizing whole, real foods.  Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants and electrolytes that support healthy cardiovascular function.  Lean proteins, such as poultry and fish, will fill you up without leading to the insulin spikes that spell disaster for your metabolism and blood sugar.  In other good news, heart healthy eating no longer means emphasizing low fat over flavor.  Current recommendations provide a greater emphasis on the types of fats, especially limiting transfats and overly processed foods.  Wondering which diet to choose?  Here’s a ranking of many popular diets and their impact on your health and your waistline. In addition to reducing trans-fats, a heart healthy diet emphasizing whole foods will naturally be lower in sodium, which contributes to an increase in blood pressure.  If your blood pressure is high or borderline, reducing processed foods will reduce sodium in your diet.  The most common sources of sodium tend to be packaged, prepared, and restaurant meals, so asking for sauces on the side, prepping meals at home, and emphasizing natural foods will lead to a reduction in sodium in your diet while increasing beneficial electrolytes, such as potassium and magnesium, which offset sodium’s impact on blood pressure. Ready to get started with heart healthy diet choices?  Here’s how to eat delicious, heart healthy foods all day long!

Heart Healthy Breakfast:

Start your day off by getting a head start on fruits and vegetables.  Add asparagus to an omelet or blueberries to your oatmeal.  The best breakfast options will include plenty of protein, fiber, and a healthy amount of fat to keep your energy levels stable throughout the morning.

Heart Healthy Lunch:

Don’t skip this important meal to keep your concentration and energy high into the afternoon.  Taking the time to prep protein and vegetables early in the week will give you grab and go options that won’t leave you raiding the vending machine before your 1:00 meeting.  From salmon lettuce wraps to veggie stuffed avocados, heart healthy lunches can be convenient and delicious.  And don’t forget about your kids.  Here are our simple tips for keeping their lunches healthy!

Heart Healthy Dinner:

Heart Healthy dinners don’t mean you’re going to be hungry.  What could be more satisfying than meat and potatoes or even a vegetarian stuffed potato for an easy and affordable weeknight meal?  Find some inspiration for making your spuds healthy and consider subbing sweet potatoes once a week or more to load up on nutrients and variety.

Heart Healthy Snacks:

While snacking can get a bad rap, it’s also a great way to bring in heart healthy superfoods and load up on an extra serving of fruits or vegetables.  Keep a bag of low sodium almonds in your desk at work.  Grab and go fruits and vegetables are natural sources of energy when your schedule is busy or you need a post-workout pick me up.  Combine a healthy carbohydrate with protein and fiber for the biggest nutritional punch.  Low fat cottage cheese or hummus with vegetables, string cheese and an apple, almond butter and a banana, or a nutrition packed smoothie containing your favorite superfood are all convenient options. Remember that eating heart healthy doesn’t mean you have to be perfect.  Indulging in a favorite meal or treat is part of life.  If your overall diet is healthy, these indulgences won’t take you off track.  Need help getting started? Find one area that you can improve (a healthy breakfast or preparing lunches are good ones) and start with that.  Remember to share your successes on Facebook with the American Heart Association’s #heartmonth campaign!
About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.