Eating for Better Heart Health

posted by Jenna Walsh on Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The month of February is dedicated to focusing on heart health; however, these suggestions can be helpful year long. Diet plays a major role in cardiovascular health, and good health, in general. As a dietitian, here are some of the tips I frequently share with patients on what to eat for better heart health.

Choose Fish

Fish is filled with omega-3 fatty acids that help protect against heart disease. Consume around 2 servings weekly of fish like, salmon, albacore tuna, herring, lake trout, mackerel, and sardines. These are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids.Not into eating fish?Plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, ground flaxseed, and chia seeds that could be added to your morning cereal.

Choose Foods Higher in Fiber

Simply put, fiber is a component of plant foods that is not digested by our bodies. There are two different types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.Soluble fiber is important when talking about heart health, because it is not absorbed in the intestine and binds to cholesterol to be removed from our bodies. In return, this fiber can be helpful in lowering LDL (or “bad) cholesterol levels. Add fiber into your diet by including a variety of fruits and vegetables into your meals and snacks. Aim to make half of your grain intake “whole” grains. This includes whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice, oats, and other cereal grains.

Choose Foods with Less Added Sugar

The American Heart Association recommends eating less added sugars to improve heart health. Current recommendations suggest men have no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar a day, while women no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day. To put this in perspective, a 12 ounce can of regular soda has at least 8 teaspoons of added sugar. Alternatives to soda could be water infused with lemon, or sparkling water with a splash of 100% fruit juice.

Choose “Better-for-You” Fat Options

The types of fats in our diet can contribute to our cholesterol levels. Not all fats are created equal, and there are “better for you” fat options. Strive to include good fats, or unsaturated sources in your daily routine. Examples would be plant oils, avocados, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish. Try to limit saturated fat sources that typically come from animal sources including beef, pork, chicken, butter, cheese and other dairy products. With everything, moderation is key and it is important to note that fats, in general, are going to be higher in calories.  So go easy on the good fats if your ultimate goal is maintaining a healthy weight.

Be Mindful of Your Sodium Intake

Most of us are getting too much sodium in our diet from the foods we are consuming. Too much sodium can play a role in high blood pressure.You can cut back on the amount of sodium in your diet by simply choosing to skip the salt at the table. Sodium free seasoning blends are readily available at most grocery stores and packed with flavor. If you’re use to heavily salting your food, remember that your taste buds take time to adjust to lower levels of sodium. Focusing on fresh options and cooking meals at home more often will ensure less sodium is involved, and give you the capability to customize your favorite recipe.

There is no question that change can be difficult. Try making simple switches in your diet, like switching from white rice to brown rice. Hungry between your meals? Snack on a handful of almonds. Maybe you want to try cutting back on sodium and enjoy a home cooked meal more often. Focusing on small changes at a time will result in sustainable, life-long healthy habits.

Don’t be afraid to try new recipes often. Here is one of my favorite recipes for salmon.

About The Author

Jenna Walsh

Jenna Walsh is one of Spencer Hospital’s Registered Dietitian Nutritionists. She graduated from Iowa State University and completed her dietetic internship at various locations throughout northwest Iowa, including Spencer Hospital. She currently works as an outpatient dietitian providing in ... read more