When it comes to heart disease in America, the statistics can be quite alarming! The number of people who develop heart disease increases every year. One in four deaths in America is from heart disease; it is also the number one cause of death for both men and women. It is likely that you or someone you know lives with or will develop heart disease, but by eating a heart-healthy diet, you can lower your risk.
Heart Healthy Foods
To minimize your risk for heart disease, eat a well-balanced diet that includes potassium, omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin B and folic acid each week.
Potassium is a valuable mineral that your body needs to battle heart disease. Not only does Potassium relax your blood vessel walls, which lower blood pressure, but Potassium also balances out the effects of salt by helping your body excrete sodium through urine. The kidneys regulate the amount of fluid stored in your body by filtering extra fluid in the blood to produce urine. When too much fluid is stored, blood pressure increases.
Despite the benefits of potassium, it should be consumed in moderation. As you age, your kidneys don’t remove potassium from your blood as efficiently. The American Heart Association recommends 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day. The healthiest way for consuming an appropriate amount of potassium is by eating foods rich in potassium instead of supplements. Here are a few suggested foods that are rich in potassium:
- Sweet potatoes
- Acorn squash
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats that reduce blood vessel damage by decreasing the amount of inflammation throughout the body. Research has shown that omega 3 fatty acids lower the risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats) and the level of triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood. In addition, omega 3 fatty acids have also been shown to lower blood pressure and slow plaque buildup in the arteries.
To decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish at least two times per week, such as:
- Albacore tuna
- Lake trout
If you don’t like fish, there are several other ways to obtain a rich omega 3 diet:
- Kidney beans
- Winter squash
Dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble, has been connected to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Soluble fiber not only lowers the levels of low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol, but also lowers blood pressure and reduces inflammation throughout the body.
Since dietary fiber makes you feel full, eating a diet high in fiber helps reduce your overall calories consumed. Health experts recommend that men consume 38 grams of dietary fiber per day, and women consume 25 grams per day. Of all the types of grains, oats contain the highest proportion of soluble fiber, making oatmeal an excellent meal choice. Other high fiber options include:
- Raspberries and blueberries
- Apple with skin
Vitamin B/ Folic Acid
Folic acid and vitamin B12 are shown to lower the levels of homocysteine, an amino acid, by breaking it down. Too much homocysteine increases the risk of coronary heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends a diet high in folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 for those at risk of developing heart disease. Eating green leafy vegetables is the best way to get your recommended daily value. However, there are other excellent choices, too:
- Whole wheat bread
Foods to Avoid
Reducing your risk of heart disease is a two-way street. While eating a heart-healthy diet can lower your risk, it is also important to avoid eating foods that can increase your risk for heart disease. Eating foods high in saturated fats and trans fats increase your likelihood of having heart disease. An easy way to omit these fats from your diet is to cook with extra virgin olive oil instead of butter, margarine or shortening. Foods high in trans fat and saturated fat to avoid include:
- Baked goods (cakes, cookies and pie crust)
- Fried foods
- Non-dairy creamer
- Microwave popcorn
Tip: Read nutrition labels carefully. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 14 grams of saturated fat and two grams of trans fat daily.
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Red meat (beef, pork and lamb) is high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which increases your risk for heart disease. While you do not need to eliminate red meat out of your diet, limit your consumption to less than six ounces per day.
Tip: Go meatless for one or two meals each week to lower your risk of heart disease.
Heart disease is a growing epidemic, but eating a heart healthy diet is your best defense in reducing your risk. Gradually incorporate heart-healthy foods into your diet and phase out foods high in saturated and trans fat to make permanent changes to your diet.
For more tips to prevent heart disease, contact your doctor. If you do not have a primary care physician, use our Find a Doctor tool to locate a doctor near you.