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5 Easy Ways to Eat Heart Healthy

 

Load up on vegetables

Eat your veggies! Vegetables have fewer calories and more fiber than meats and carbohydrate-rich foods (like breads, rice and other grains). Their high fiber content aids satiety, helping you feel full longer and discouraging you from grazing on snacks (and extra calories). You should aim to make half your plate vegetables.

For nutritional value, choose a variety of vegetables (make your plate colorful!). And if fresh isn’t an option, frozen and canned will suffice — just mind the sodium content!

Read your labels

There are a lot of companies eager to tout the presumed health benefits of their products, but don’t let their marketing deceive you. Flip the box and check the label for calories, fat (and calories from fat), sodium, carbohydrates (carbs can cause your blood sugar to spike) — and portion size! Food manufacturers figured out a long time ago that they could make their products look more appealing by reducing the calories. The easiest way to reduce calories isn’t necessarily to reformulate their foods to make them healthier — it’s to reduce the size of their portions because less food means fewer calories. So, make sure you scope out how many “servings” are actually in that bag or box.

Of course, the best foods usually don’t have much in the way of labels (except, maybe, for a sticker with their country of origin). Fresh fruits, vegetables and meats are a blank slate of fiber and nutrition that you can prepare with as little added fat (from oils or butter) and sodium (from salts and seasonings) as you like. Eating fresh is a better choice than eating prepackaged, processed foods.

Opt for Whole Grains

Simple carbohydrates — found in white rice and white breads, for instance — are really easy for the body to process. And the way the body processes those super-refined foods is by turning them instantly into energy, which means sugar. Your blood sugar will spike and you’ll experience a short burst of energy, but once that burst is gone, you crash (or worse, you crave more carbs).

Complex carbohydrates — like those from whole-grain breads, brown rice and the “ancient grains” that have gained popularity recently, like bulger and millet — digest much more slowly, helping you feel full longer and leading to a slower release of sugar into the blood. They also tend to be higher in fiber and nutrients, which can help lower cholesterol, promote weight loss and is part of a dietary approach to controlling blood pressure.

Meat Up

Despite all the furor around plant-based diets (vegetarian and vegan, for instance), meat isn’t necessarily an enemy to heart health. However, you should be wise with the meats you choose.

Look for lean cuts, low in fat and high in protein, like white-meat chicken or turkey, lean cuts of pork (like tenderloin), and fish. Trim visible fat (and skin on chicken) before cooking and prepare the meat by grilling, broiling or baking — not frying.

As with processed foods, it’s also important to be mindful of your portion size; you should limit your diet to between 5 and 6 1/2 ounces of lean meats per day. That’s about the size of a deck of cards for most meats or a checkbook for fish.

Look for ways to incorporate fatty fish — like salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines — into your diet at least twice a week to reap the heart-healthy benefits, including reduction of several risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including increasing your rate of “good” HDL cholesterol.

And if you are interested in going meatless, you can supplement your diet with eggs, tofu, beans and other protein-rich, non-meat foods. Even forgoing meat once a week (meatless Mondays, anyone?) can have a positive impact on your weight and cholesterol levels.

Get Creative in the Kitchen

Don’t be afraid to try new things! There are tons of heart-healthy recipes out there, and you can find one to match your tastes. Check out the American Heart Association’s recipes at recipes.heart.org or Tanner Health System’s recipes in our free online health library at healthlibrary.tanner.org/Library/Recipes.

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