How Diet Affects Heart Health

February 26, 2024

February is American Heart Month, a time to raise awareness about the importance of keeping your heart healthy. Heart disease, responsible for one in five U.S. deaths per CDC data, disproportionately affects adults aged 65 and older.

While the statistics may seem daunting, the good news is heart health can be improved through diet. What you eat and drink can have a significant impact on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and cardiovascular function.

In this blog post, we will explore how nutrition affects our heart health, and how you can modify your diet to support cardiac wellness.

The Role of Nutrition in Cardiac Health

Embracing a diet of heart-healthy foods can help prevent or attenuate conditions like hypertension and atherosclerosis that can damage your heart. According to the American Heart Association, optimal cardiovascular health is associated with adherence to a diet that’s rich in these nutrients:

  • Fiber helps your body regulate blood cholesterol levels and improve blood pressure. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are all healthy sources of fiber. You can help your cholesterol levels even further by eating sources of lean protein like skinless poultry, beans, lentils, tofu, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids help your body regulate inflammation, lower triglyceride levels (which can increase your risk of heart disease at high levels) and maintain heart rhythm. Include olive oil, avocados, fish, nuts, and seeds to get more omega-3 fatty acids as a regular part of your diet.
  • Antioxidants help protect your arteries from oxidative stress and hardening. Antioxidant-rich foods include berries, citrus, green leafy vegetables, and green tea.

Of course, following a “heart smart” diet is more than just eating the right foods. It also requires limiting the foods that can be detrimental to your heart health, such as:

  • Saturated and trans fats: Found in red meats as well as processed and fried foods, these fats can raise blood cholesterol levels and increase heart disease risk.
  • Refined carbohydrates: White bread, pastries, and sugary drinks contribute to inflammation and unhealthy blood sugar levels – which can increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Excessive sodium: Limit foods exceeding 400 mg of sodium, including frozen entrees, canned goods, processed foods, and added table salt, to keep blood pressure in check.

Tips for a Heart-Healthy Diet

Changing eating habits can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding and beneficial for your heart health and overall well-being. Get started by incorporating these simple tips into your daily routine. Remember, small changes add up!

  • Read food labels to help you avoid items that are high in sodium, added sugars, saturated fats, and trans fats. Look for the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark on heart-healthy foods.
  • Swap fried foods for baked or grilled options.
  • Choose low-fat versions of dairy products (for example, drinking skim milk instead of whole milk).
  • Snack on fruits, vegetables, and nuts instead of sugary treats.
  • Substitute white rice with quinoa, barley, or farro.

Finding What Works for You

Diet is one of the most important factors that directly affects your health. Since everyone’s nutritional needs and preferences are different, we recommend speaking with a dietitian or healthcare provider to get personalized recommendations for optimal heart health. With the right guidance and a commitment to nourishing your body wisely, you can take care of your heart for a vibrant and healthier future.

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