10 Simple Eating Tips Your Heart Will Love

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S., but it’s not just one disease. It includes a number of conditions, such as coronary artery disease, heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms, which can affect your heart’s ability to function normally.

Your risk for heart disease is determined by several factors, like your family history and current health habits. What if you could make lifestyle choices to help prevent or reduce damage from heart disease? You can– and your diet is a great place to start.

Dr. Jeffrey Ciaramita with Mercy Clinic Heart and Vascular has ten simple tips on what to eat for your heart:

  1. Pile on the fruits and vegetables. Whether it’s dark green spinach, yellow carrots, orange peaches or red berries – include a wide variety of fruits and veggies daily. They’re high in vitamins, low in fat and can help control your blood pressure.

  2. Add whole grains. Foods like oats, brown rice and whole-wheat bread are excellent sources of fiber, which can help improve your cholesterol.

  3. Eat fish at least twice a week. Salmon, mackerel, trout and herring have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats. They’re also associated with reducing plaque buildup in your arteries. If you don’t like fish, some nuts and seeds may be an option. Try incorporating walnuts, ground flaxseeds, chia seeds or soybeans into your meals.

  4. Avoid bad fats. Lard, cream, butter or fatty cuts of beef and pork are full of saturated fat, which raises the level of cholesterol in your blood and increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Many snack foods like cookies, chips and crackers have trans fats, which have been shown to increase your bad cholesterol while reducing your good cholesterol.

  5. Skip the salt. Too much salt in your body causes you to retain water. That can lead to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the average American eats about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day. If you don’t have high blood pressure or risk factors for heart disease, AHA recommends sticking to 2,300 mg (one teaspoon) a day. If you are at risk, cut that number to 1,500 mg (.75 teaspoon) daily.

  6. Avoid alcohol. Drinking alcohol regularly can raise your blood pressure and lead to heart disease. If you drink, limit it to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

  7. Cut back on added sugars. Eating a diet full of sugar can cause your liver to put more harmful fats into your bloodstream, raising your risk for heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, the maximum amount of added sugar you should eat in a day is only 150 calories (men) and 100 calories (women).

  8. Reduce your portion sizes. Maintaining a healthy weight is critical for heart health. Watch your portion sizes – larger portions mean more calories. Excess pounds can lead to diabetes and burden your heart by requiring it to pump more blood.

  9. Start small. You don’t have to implement all of these tips at once. Start by making small changes in your diet, like swapping full-fat ingredients for low- or non-fat in your favorite recipes. Choose whole-grain bread instead of white, or use herbs and spices instead of salt to add flavor.

  10. Order healthy. Eating healthy while eating out can sometimes be a challenge. Look for foods that are steamed, broiled or baked. Avoid menu items with sauces; choose low-fat vinaigrette for your salad dressing; and order fruit for dessert.

Other heart-healthy habits that can help prevent heart disease include avoiding tobacco, getting regular exercise and getting appropriate screenings.