Building a heart healthy diet

February 9, 2024

In recognition of American Heart Month, Venice Family Clinic health educator Kelly Ayllon shares a few recommendations to help you eat a more heart-healthy diet.

1. Control your portion size
Adding too much to your plate or eating until you feel stuffed can lead to eating more calories than your body needs. An adult typically consumes around 2,000 calories per day, but eating more calories than recommended could then lead to a higher weight and increase our risk of cardiovascular disease. For example, having a higher weight can cause high blood pressure, which, if unmanaged, can damage your heart. To learn more about your personal calorie needs, visit your primary care doctor or schedule a consultation with a dietician.

2. Balance your plate
Eating well-balanced meals helps your heart stay healthy by making sure you get all of the nutrients you need without eating too much or too little of any food group. Generally, to eat a well-balanced meal, fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, one quarter of your plate of whole grains such as quinoa, oats or brown rice and one quarter of your plate with protein such as fish, poultry, beans or nuts.

3. Load up on fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals and rich in dietary fiber, a carbohydrate with many benefits including managing diabetes, weight management, and digestive health. They also contain compounds such as antioxidants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. To increase your antioxidant intake, choose berries such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, goji berries and green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach and okra.

4. Choose whole grains over refined grains
Whole grains provide fiber and other nutrients that can help regulate blood pressure and heart health. Consuming whole grains can help lower insulin levels which can also lower the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. This is because whole grains are rich in fiber, which can help control your blood sugar since the body is not able to absorb and break down fiber which in turn doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar like other carbohydrates (white rice, white bread, and pasta) do.

Fiber can also stop your body’s absorption of certain fats and cholesterol which can therefore help decrease your triglyceride and cholesterol levels which can reduce the risk of heart disease. Make simple substitutions where you can, such as opting for whole-grain or whole-wheat bread instead of white bread and brown rice, barley, or buckwheat instead of white rice.

5. Limit your intake of saturated and trans fats
Limiting saturated and trans fats can help reduce your blood cholesterol which can reduce your risk of heart disease. To reduce your consumption of saturated fats, trim visible fat off meat and use less butter, margarine and shortening when cooking and serving your meals.

You can also substitute unsaturated fats for saturated fats in your meals. Examples of such substitutions include using low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream or avocado spread on toast instead of butter and margarine. To avoid trans fats in your diet, look out for “partially hydrogenated oils” in your packaged foods and read nutrition labels to make sure you minimize your intake of trans fats.

6. Choose low-fat protein sources
Poultry, fish, low-fat dairy products and eggs are some of the best sources of low-fat protein. Opt for skinless chicken breasts instead of skin-on or fried chicken, and drink skim or low-fat milk rather than whole milk. Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas and soybeans) are a great source of plant protein for vegetarians, vegans and those eating a plant-based diet.

7. Limit or reduce sodium in your diet
Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that you look at the nutrition labels on food products and use the Percent Daily Value (%DV) to make healthier choices. Generally, 5% DV or less of sodium per serving is considered low and 20% DV or more per serving is considered high. Reducing the amount of sodium you eat or drink is a great step towards a healthy heart.

To learn more about living a heart-healthy lifestyle, including tips for exercise, sleep, and stress management, join us on February 13 at our Healthy Heart is a Happy Heart class. Visit the Community Calendar on our website to sign up.