Everyone should be concerned about their heart health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States across all sex and ethnic groups, with one person dying every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease. Keeping our heart healthy should be a top consideration for every person taking a good, hard look at their eating habits. Below are some quick tips and changes to implement to keep your heart in tip-top shape.
Control Portion Size
The first and simplest step to making heart-healthy eating choices is to simply eat less. While there is more nuance to health than just calories, how much you eat is important. Taking second helpings and eating until you feel overly stuffed will pack on the calories and strain your heart. There are many ways to approach reducing your portion size. Use a smaller plate or bowl. Drink plenty of water - you probably need more than you realize! Learn how big a serving size for a particular food group is, and take notice to stick to those. You may need to use a food scale or measuring cups for a time.
Choose Whole Grains
Carbohydrates are often given a bad rap when the real culprit is that they often come in the form of sugar. Whole grains prepared well are great sources of fiber and other nutrients that help to stabilize your blood pressure and promote a healthy heart. Ideally, all grains should be soaked prior to using so as to neutralize their phytic acid. It’s quick and easy to start soaking your oats overnight before breakfast or setting out your rice to soak during the day prior to cooking supper. Even if soaking your whole grains isn’t feasible for you, opting for the whole grain option over the processed, white bread will always boost your health. Cook with unbleached whole-wheat flour. Choose brown over white across the board - pasta, bread, rice.
Limit Low-Quality Fats
Not all fats are created equal. Our bodies need fat to function, but too much low-quality fat can really tax our cardiovascular system. All fats and oils, whether they be from animals or plants, contain some combination of saturated and unsaturated fats. Fats and oils that are higher in saturated fat will usually be solid at room temperature. Choose your fats with care, picking saturated fats over unsaturated fats whenever possible, and limit them. Trans fats should be avoided altogether. Bake your meats rather than fry them, or try working with an air fryer. Use olive oil or tallow instead of vegetable oil. And check your labels! Many items labeled “reduced-fat” are made with trans-saturated oils. Remember - fat isn’t bad, but not all fat is created equal. Higher quality fats at a less amount will do your heart good.
Reduce Sodium Intake
A diet high in sodium can cause issues with high blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends that adults have less than a teaspoon of salt a day. Reducing the amount of salt added to your food when you’re eating is a good first step, but a significant amount of sodium is hiding in canned and processed foods - soups, frozen meals, prepackaged foods. While convenience foods and cooking shortcuts are helpful in a pinch, the best way to reduce your sodium intake is to cook your own food and learn to season it. Salt is often used to cover up a poor use of herbs and spices. The old adage runs true - a pinch of salt while cooking makes good food, a pinch of salt at the table makes salty food. Add your pinch of salt at the stovetop, and then play with a variety of herbs and spices rather than using more salt as a crutch.