Heart health on your plate: How to eat to prevent heart disease

There are no magic foods, but strategies will help reduce your heart disease risk.

herbed salmon pieces on plateIn the fight against heart disease, the top killer of Americans, a healthy diet and exercise are two of your most powerful weapons. Unfortunately, there is no one special food or supplement that will reduce your risk for heart disease, but even small changes can make a big impact.

Eating a healthy diet is one of the steps you can take, which will ultimately help you reduce your risk. But what does that mean? The American Heart Association recommends eating a wide variety of nutritious foods every day. Here’s how:

Add Color to Your Plate

hands on knife chipping vegetablesVegetables and fruits are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. They’re also low in calories. Eating a wide range of colorful vegetables and fruit can help you control weight and blood pressure.
Your goal is to eat 3 to 5 servings of vegetables and fruits every day. That sounds like a lot, but a serving is 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables, a baseball-sized fruit or ½ cup of juice. Check here for suggested servings from each food group.

Go for Whole Grains

close up of slices of whole wheat breadAnother food group rich in fiber is grains, but the key here is to choose whole, unrefined grains, which will help keep you fuller longer. Instead of white grains, substitute brown rice, whole wheat bread, and whole grain pasta. Make sure the label says “whole grain.” Just because it’s brown, doesn’t mean it’s whole grain.

Befriend Fish

whole cooked fish on plate with vegetablesThe American Heart Association recommends most people eat fish twice a week. Oily fish like salmon, trout and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which could help lower your risk for heart disease. You only need 3.5oz servings, about the size of a checkbook.

Protein Power

hand squeezing lemon over raw chickenIn addition to fish, think lean protein. This includes skinless meats and poultry and low-fat dairy products. Make sure you prepare them without adding saturated or trans-fats.

Know Your Fats

bottle of olive oil and spoonYou don’t need to cut all fat out of your diet, just know which ones to choose. Your body actually needs dietary fat to help absorb some nutrients, but not as much as most people eat.

Choose liquid vegetable oils low in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol, including canola, corn, olive, safflower and sunflower oils. Use them sparingly. Learn more about fats here.

Cut the Salt

fingers sprinkling salt into potMany Americans eat much more sodium than their bodies need, mostly from processed or restaurant foods. You’ll want to prepare meals with little or no salt. The goal is to eat less than 1500 mg of sodium per day.

If you’re searching for flavor to make up for the salt, try adding spices and herbs to your meals. Fresh hot peppers or savory curry powders can add new flavor to your meals.

The key thing to remember when making changes is that even small ones can make a big impact. Over time you may find healthy eating becomes a habit you stick with.