The latest recommendations provide the opportunity to design a healthy diet that aligns with your lifestyle and specific needs.
As you may know, heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 17.9 million deaths every year. However, the good news is that heart disease is largely preventable through lifestyle changes, such as adopting a healthy diet.
Following a healthy diet is essential for maintaining heart health and preventing heart disease. While there is no one-size-fits-all diet that will work for everyone, there are certain principles that can help you create a heart-healthy eating plan that meets your unique needs and preferences. Focusing on healthy eating patterns and following these 10 rules to create a diet that supports heart health:
1. Balancing calorie intake with fitness
Gaining weight increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and can be caused by consuming more calories than you burn through physical activity. Consulting a dietitian can help you determine the appropriate amount of calories to consume based on your level of activity. Making small adjustments to your diet, such as cutting back on fast food and increasing your intake of nutritious options, or adjusting portion sizes can help ensure that the number of calories you consume is balanced with the number of calories you burn through activity.
2. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables
Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet can have numerous health benefits, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death. These foods are packed with essential nutrients and a wide range of beneficial plant compounds that can help to protect against chronic diseases.
In addition to their cardiovascular benefits, fruits and vegetables are also rich in fibre, which can help to support digestive health and promote feelings of fullness. They are also low in calories, making them an excellent choice for weight management.
When it comes to incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet, it's important to aim for a wide variety of colours and types. Each colour group represents different types of plant compounds, so by including a range of colours, you can take advantage of the unique health benefits offered by each group. For example, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are high in beta-carotene and other carotenoids, which have been linked to a reduced risk of certain types of cancer. Green vegetables are rich in chlorophyll and other nutrients that can help to support eye health and boost the immune system.
It's recommended to aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, but many health experts recommend even more. One serving is equal to about a half cup of cooked or one cup of raw vegetables or fruit. To make it easier to hit this target, try adding a serving of fruits or vegetables to every meal and snack. This could include tossing some berries into your morning smoothie, adding a side of steamed broccoli to your dinner plate, or snacking on an apple or carrot stick as a mid-morning pick-me-up.
In addition to choosing fresh produce, it's also perfectly fine to include frozen or canned options in your diet. Just be sure to choose options that are low in added sugars and sodium. For canned vegetables, you can also rinse them under cold water before using them to help reduce their salt content. By making an effort to include more fruits and vegetables in your diet, you can help to support your overall health and well-being.
3. Choose whole-grain foods and products
It is important to prioritise the consumption of whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread and brown rice, over refined grains like white bread and white rice. This is because regularly eating whole grains has been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. To mix things up and get more nutrients, try incorporating new whole grains into your diet, such as quinoa, buckwheat, or wild rice, which are high in B vitamins and protein and can be easily found in most stores.
4. Choose healthy proteins
To reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, the guidelines recommend primarily consuming plant-based proteins, such as nuts and legumes, as well as two to three servings of fish per week. Additionally, it is suggested to replace full-fat dairy products with low-fat options, like milk or yogurt, for better heart health. If you do choose to include meat or poultry in your diet, it is recommended to opt for low-fat cuts and avoid processed meats altogether. It is not necessary to focus on a specific protein intake target, but rather to include protein in every meal, whether it be from beans, fish, or low-fat cheese.
5. Use liquid plant oils instead of refined oils.
It is beneficial for cardiovascular health to replace saturated fats like those found in red meat and tropical oils like coconut or palm oil with unsaturated fats from plant oils like olive, canola, or safflower oil. However, it is important to keep in mind that oils are still fats and contain a lot of calories, so it is important to be mindful of portion sizes and calorie intake when using plant-based oils.
6. Choose minimally processed foods
Consuming a diet high in ultra-processed foods, which often contain high levels of salt, sugar, fat, and preservatives, is associated with an increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality. It is recommended to prioritise whole, unprocessed foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains over processed options like frozen meals, processed meats, baked goods, chips, and other packaged items.
7. Minimise your intake of foods and drinks with added sugars.
Eating sugary foods and drinks has been linked to an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain. To reduce your intake of added sugars, it is helpful to check the ingredients list on food labels for sources of added sugars such as glucose, dextrose, sucrose, corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, and concentrated fruit juice. It is recommended to limit or avoid consuming these types of sugars as much as possible.
8. Choose or prepare foods with little or no salt
Caution about consuming high amounts of salt can raise blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart attacks and strokes. Processed foods and restaurant meals are often high in salt, but it can also be found in unexpected places like salad dressing and whole-wheat bread. To reduce your salt intake, it is important to read food labels carefully to check sodium levels and aim to consume less than 2,300 milligrams per day.
9. Limit alcohol consumption
It is important to be mindful of your alcohol consumption and its potential impact on your health. The guidelines recommend limiting alcohol intake in order to reduce the risk for stroke and heart arrhythmias, which are dangerous irregular heartbeats that can be caused by excessive alcohol consumption.
To reduce these risks, it is recommended to limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. It is also worth noting that the definition of a "drink" can vary based on the type of alcohol being consumed, with one drink generally equating to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
It is important to be aware of these serving sizes and to pay attention to how much alcohol you are consuming. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that everyone is different and some people may be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than others, so it is always a good idea to listen to your body and be mindful of your own personal limits.
10. Use these guidelines wherever you dine
It is important to follow the guidelines for healthy eating in any setting, including when you are eating at a friend's house or a restaurant. This may require paying attention to portion sizes and minimising sauces or asking for them on the side, as they can often be sources of salt, sugar, and fat. It is okay to indulge occasionally, but it is important to try to make healthier choices most of the time. Remember that your heart health depends on the choices you make, so do your best to follow the guidelines and make heart-healthy choices at every meal.
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