3 simple ways to eat for your heart

Nutrition tips in time for Heart Month

By Vann Lovett, MPH, RD, LD

Sadly, having heart trouble is becoming the new normal for many adults. 

Nearly half of all adults in the United States have some form of cardiovascular disease.1 This year, one million people will suffer a heart attack or die from coronary heart disease, according to the American Heart Association News. 

But don’t lose heart! Fortunately, you can prevent cardiovascular disease by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Good nutrition and moderate exercise can help to prevent and treat many of the risk factors for heart disease.

In honor of American Heart Month, here are a few ideas to help you improve your diet: 

Limit sodium in your diet.

Why: By eating a low-sodium diet, you can lower your blood pressure, putting less strain on your heart. Experts recommend less than 2,300mg of sodium per day, which is equal to about one teaspoon of salt.2 On average, Americans consume 3,400mg of sodium per day.

How: 

  • Try new spices. Many of the grocery stores and spice shops offer spices in bulk, so you can buy a small amount to sample.
  • Experiment with vinegars, citrus and other liquids like broth, wine or beer to help season food. This can also help you use less oil in the cooking process.
  • Read labels! Check the Nutrition Facts panel on packaged foods and be sure to read the ingredients list. Watch out for high sodium in canned foods such as soup and tomato products, as well as salad dressings and snack foods. 

Eat more fruits and vegetables.

Why: Fruits and vegetables are high in potassium, which can help lower blood pressure. They also help you control your weight without feeling deprived.

How:

  • Make a goal to try one new fruit or vegetable a week. There are so many colors, flavors and textures to discover! 
  • Replace sweets with fruits to load up on nutrients and fiber with fewer calories.
  • Incorporate veggies into your breakfast. Veggies are great raw, steamed or roasted using some of the seasoning suggestions from above.

Eat more meatless meals.

Why: Saturated fat combined with dietary cholesterol is particularly bad for heart health. This deadly duo is found only in animal products.

How:

  • Look to nuts, beans and lentils, whole grains, soy products like edamame and tofu, or tempeh as your plant-based protein sources.
  • Limit the amount of oil you use in cooking. Aim for oils that are high in mono-unsaturated fat such as olive, canola, avocado or peanut. 

Note: Although animal foods are the only source of dietary cholesterol and the main source of saturated fat, saturated fat is also found in palm and coconut oils. Many snack foods, commercial baked goods and other processed/convenience food products use palm or coconut oils. These foods should be eaten as occasional treats.

I’d also like to encourage you to move more. Exercise helps lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and raises HDL (good) cholesterol levels. If you’re not currently active, please talk to your doctor about beginning a new exercise regimen. 

Vann Lovett is the manager of food and nutrition services, as well as diabetes education at Columbia Memorial Hospital.

1 Cardiovascular diseases affect nearly half of American adults, statistics show

2 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans