Many diets focus on foods you shouldn’t eat, but the most effective diets focus on the food you should and can eat. Research shows that including certain foods in your diet is equally important as reducing your intake of some foods.
The link between your heart and nutrition
Your heart health and nutrition have a strong connection. For instance, following a heart-healthy diet can reduce your bad (LDL) and total cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, triglycerides and blood sugars. Potassium found in many vegetables and fruits helps reduce high blood pressure.
Another important factor is making good diet choices. This can reduce your risk for heart-related conditions and diseases, meaning eating healthier foods can eliminate or reduce your chances of developing certain health issues.
Food to eat and avoid in a heart-healthy diet
Health experts have stated that a heart-healthy diet contains
- Lean animal protein
- Whole grains
Foods to avoid for a heart-healthy diet include:
- Saturated fats
- Trans fat
- Processed meat such as pepperoni, bologna, salami and hot dogs
- Sweetened beverages like soda
- Refined carbohydrates such as crackers, salty snack food, white bread and baked good
- Red meat such as lamb, veal, pork and beef
The most important factor is moderation, as eliminating some of these foods from your diet may be difficult. You don’t have to feel guilty about occasionally taking small servings of unhealthy foods, but ensure the portion is small.
Moderation is also essential for healthy foods. For example, health experts advise limiting the consumption of fish high in mercury, like swordfish, king mackerel, and albacore tuna, to six ounces weekly.
Nutrition tips on a heart-healthy diet
Knowing the food to eat and the right quantities for a healthy diet can be overwhelming. These tips can help you have a heart-friendly and balanced diet.
Increase your vegetable and fruits intake
Vegetables and fruits contain lots of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and dietary fibre, which help prevent diseases. People with high blood pressure can benefit from a diet rich in grains, vegetables and fruits.
Health experts advise combining 7 – 9 servings of vegetables and fruits daily. This equals four or more vegetables and 2 – 4 fruits. Even if you do not reach the recommended daily serving, you can increase your fruit or vegetable consumption over the next few days.
A serving of fruits equals
- 1/4 cup of dried fruit
- One piece of medium-sized fresh fruit
- 1/2 grapefruit
- 1/2 medium-sized banana
- Four ounces of 100% unsweetened fruit juice
- 1/2 cup of canned fruit, but avoid heavy syrup. You can also take fruit water or make fruit juice
A serving of vegetable equals
- One cup of 100% vegetable juice
- One cup of cut-up vegetables
- Two cups of raw leafy salad greens
How to increase vegetables and fruits in your diet
- Make a veggie and fruit smoothie with produce that requires quick consumption
- Keep fresh fruits in your workspace or on your desk
- Get pre-cut fruits and vegetables (frozen or fresh), and bag them to add to dishes or as a snack
- Opt for fruit snacks like frozen banana slices topped with semi-sweet chocolate chips and frozen grapes dipped in a teaspoon of chocolate syrup or natural peanut butter
- Have a garden salad or vegetable-based soup with a light dressing alongside your sandwich during lunch
- If you will miss a meal, take a homemade mix of two tablespoons of roasted seeds or nuts, and two tablespoons of dried fruits
Eat different vegetables and fruits
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is important for a healthy life. It ensures you get a wide range of nutrients. You can eat bananas, yellow pepper, kiwi, celery, spinach and grapes, eggplant and plums, oranges and carrots, raspberries, strawberries and tomatoes.
Reduce trans fats and saturated fats
Fat is essential in our diet, but fats are different. Saturated and trans fat are called bad fats because they increase LDL or bad cholesterol in the body. LDL causes plaque accumulation in the arteries. Some kinds of cheese and red meat are high in saturated fats.
Instead of saturated and trans fat, choose polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, also called good fats. These healthy fat options are available in fatty fish, soy, avocadoes, seeds, nuts, olives and flaxseed.
- Reduce red meat consumption to one meal weekly. Eat the leanest meat cuts with visible skin removed. If possible, replace red meat with skinless poultry and seafood
- Eat two skinless poultry meals weekly
- Prepare food with cooking oils like avocado or olive oil. These cooking oil options contain healthier fats
- Eat fish containing high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids at least 2 – 3 times weekly. Your options include cold-water fish like herring, sardines, salmon, trout and tuna
- Eat 2 – 3 meatless meals every week. Instead, have bean-based meatless burgers, split pea soup, tofu stir-fry or garbanzo bean salad
Eat plant protein instead of animal protein
Lamb, pork, beef, eggs, poultry, yoghurt and cheese are examples of protein from animals. While health experts advise eating 5.5 ounces of protein daily, the protein you eat is important.
Eating animal protein gives you more saturated fat and cholesterol, which can cause an increase in weight and elevate your risk of heart disease. However, you can eat more plant-based protein. This protein is available in nuts, seeds and legumes such as lentils, peas, and beans. You can eat more plant-based protein by having meatless meals.
Different tasty recipes are available which provide good protein sources, but ensure your means contain ingredients good for heart health, including antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins.
An ounce of protein equals
- Two egg whites or one egg
- One ounce of cooked meat, poultry or seafood
- One ounce of seeds or nuts or two tablespoons of peanut butter
- Three ounces or 1/3 cup of tofu
- 1/2 cup of cooked lentils, peas or beans
Eat more fibre
Dietary fibre is an indigestible carbohydrate. It is available in nuts, seeds, beans, fruits and vegetables. As dietary fibre passes through the digestive system, it helps digestion and waste elimination.
When included in a healthy diet, it reduces cholesterol. It also controls blood sugar, helps in weight management, keeps the bowels running normally and prevents gastrointestinal disease.
Different food contains both insoluble and soluble fibre. Each type of fibre has unique health benefits.
Soluble or viscous fibre
This fibre provides the most benefits to the heart by reducing LDL or bad cholesterol and total cholesterol. Excellent sources of soluble fibre include barley, oat bran, oats, citrus fruits, pears, apples, root vegetables, flaxseeds, barley and legumes like split peas, lentils, and dried beans.
Insoluble fibre, commonly called roughages, promotes regular bowel movements, aids weight management, softens and adds bulk to poop and prevents gastrointestinal disorders. You need a wide range of fibre-rich foods to get the greatest health benefits from the fibre.
Increase consumption of whole grains
Health experts suggest taking 3 – 6 servings of whole grains daily. Avoid refined or processed carbohydrates such as white paste, white rice and white bread.
Opt for whole grain or unrefined carbohydrates as they provide more minerals, antioxidants, dietary fibre and vitamins than refined carbs.
Examples of unrefined or whole-grain carbohydrates include:
- Whole wheat pasta
- Whole grain cereals, crackers and bread
- Brown rice
A serving of grains equals
- One small tortilla
- One sliced bread
- Three cups of popped popcorn p
- One cup of ready-to-eat cereal flakes
- 1/2 cup of cooked pasta, cereal or rice
Opt for nonfat or low-fat dairy products
Dairy products are heart-friendly, good for bone health and maintain blood pressure. Health experts recommend taking 1 – 3 servings of dairy daily. Dairy products usually contain saturated fats, choose non or low-fat options.
Your options include 1% or skim milk, reduced-fat cheese, cottage cheese and nonfat or 1% yoghurt. If you are sensitive to dairy or decide against taking dairy products, opt for alternatives such as unsweetened oat, soy or almond milk to supply your calcium requirement.
A serving of dairy products includes
- Once ounce cheese
- One cup yoghurt
- One cup milk
Reduce sugary drinks, sweets and dessert intake
Resisting sugary foods may be difficult. While you don’t have to eliminate sugar from your diet, ensure you limit sugary food and drink intake. Indulging in sweet treats a few times a month is better than a few times weekly.
Drink alcohol in moderate quantities
Drinking alcohol isn’t good for your health. However, if you drink alcohol, ensure you do so in moderation. A moderate amount of alcohol equals not more than a drink daily for women and, at most, two drinks daily for men.
Ensure you avoid drinking alcohol while on medication and consult your primary care provider about drinking alcohol if you have a medication.
Control your meal potions
While following an eating plan may be good, you need to know the quantity of each type of food equals a serving to get a good result. Examples of food and their serving include:
|Food||Serving size||Reference size|
|One cup of cooked rice or pasta||Two starch||Tennis ball|
|One sliced bread||One starch||An adult hand|
|1/2 cup of cooked fruit or vegetable||One fruit or vegetable||Baseball|
|One ounce of low-fat cheese||One medium-fat protein||Pair of dice|
|One tablespoon of olive oil||One fat||Half dollar|
|Three ounces of cooked meat||Three protein||Deck of cards|
|Three ounces of tofu||One protein||Deck of cards|
An active lifestyle significantly affects your heart health. Following a healthy diet and exercising regularly enhances your blood pressure and maintains cholesterol levels and overall heart health. Ensure you exercise at least 30 minutes 5 – 7 days weekly.
Regardless of your nutrition and active lifestyle, you need to visit your doctor regularly for private blood tests UK to check your heart health. Your doctor can offer advice on suitable exercise regimens and eating habits, including referrals to a nutritionist or dietician for a heart-healthy diet. Visit Private Doctor London or call us on 020 7183 2792 to book an appointment with our experienced doctor for your private blood testing London and care for your heart health.