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  • Writer's pictureDerrick W. Spell, MD FACP

Heart Healthy Eating Tips

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

Today we know that obesity increases the risk of developing heart disease. You are more likely to have long-term complications from heart disease if you are obese. You are also more likely to die younger if you are obese with heart disease. Fortunately, the dietary recommendations discussed in The Bite-Sized Guide to Getting Right-Sized can also be applied to anyone with heart disease, even those that are not overweight! In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, let’s review 14 heart healthy eating tips!

1. Eat 100% Whole Grains - Whole grains include wheat, corn, rice, oats – when they are consumed in their “whole” form. All grains are whole grains in their natural, unprocessed state. Whole grains are healthier than processed grains, as they provide more fiber, protein, and B vitamins. Studies show that eating whole grains is associated with lower cholesterol, lower systolic blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease.

2. Snack on Nuts – Walnuts and almonds are high in both fiber and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Eating one or two ounces (one small handful = one ounce of nuts) each day can reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. Studies confirm those that regularly eat nuts have a lower risk of heart disease.

3. Be Keen on Beans – Much like whole grains, beans are loaded with fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Eating beans regularly can help reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Eating beans can also lower blood pressure and decrease inflammation in blood vessels.

4. Benefit from Berries - Berries are wonderful sources of phytochemicals, which are natural antioxidant compounds that have various health benefits such as improved heart health. The skin of fruits is typically rich with fiber and phytochemicals. Berries have more skin, pound for pound, than larger fruits; therefore, berries have more phytochemicals.

5. Love Leafy Greens - Leafy, green vegetables (like spinach, kale, bok choy and collards) are rich with valuable vitamins and minerals. They are especially high in vitamin K and dietary nitrates, which reduce blood pressure and improve arterial function. Research demonstrates that a diet high in leafy greens leads to a lower risk of heart disease.

6. Load Up on Legumes - Common legumes include peas, lentils, chickpeas and peanuts. Like beans, they are full of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Studies also show those that frequently eat legumes have a lower risk of heart disease.

7. Choose Colorful Vegetables - Red, orange and yellow vegetables are filled with fiber, vitamins and phytonutrients called carotenoids. Tomatoes (technically a fruit, but more like a vegetable!) are loaded with lycopene, another powerful antioxidant. Studies reveal those that regularly eat vegetables (2-3 servings per day) have a lower risk of heart disease.

8. Select seeds - Seeds (including sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, chia and flaxseeds) are great sources of fiber and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Several studies have found that adding these seeds to your diet improves blood pressure and cholesterol.

9. Go Fish - Cold-water fish (like salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines) are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. Research reveals that regular fish consumption is associated with lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure. The American Heart Association (AHA) endorses eating a variety of fish at least twice a week, especially cold-water fish. You can learn more AHA recommendations on their official website

10. Retreat from Meat - Red meat (beef, lamb and pork) contain high amounts of saturated fats. The long-term consumption of foods high in saturated fats increases the risks of heart disease. The AHA discourages the routine consumption of red meat. Many experts recommend one serving or less of meat per week.

11. Eliminate Eggs - Eggs are rich with proteins and vitamins, but egg yolks are filled with cholesterol and saturated fat. Yet, eggs are not as unhealthy as experts thought a few years ago. The AHA suggests that one egg per day is appropriate when combined with a balanced diet. (I recommend eating three or less eggs per week.)

12. Add Avocados - Avocadoes are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. They are also loaded with potassium, which is needed for proper heart function. Avocadoes are associated with lower levels of cholesterol, lower blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease.

13. Avoid Added Sugars - Common sources of added sugar include high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, and corn sweetener or syrup. (Look for sugars like these hiding in the list of ingredients on product labels.) Everyday products that frequently contain added sugar include pasta sauces, barbeque sauces, ketchup and “low-fat” salad dressings. Other overlooked sources of added sugar include sweetened drinks like regular carbonated beverages, fruit juices and energy drinks. Too much added sugar and calories can lead to an accumulation of fat, which can lead to insulin resistance or diabetes. Consuming too much added sugar can also elevate blood pressure and levels of inflammation. Each of these medical problems can increase your risk of heart disease. Keep in mind, fresh fruit is always acceptable if you would like to enjoy something sweet.

14. Enjoy Dark Chocolate - Another heart-healthy choice for your “sweet tooth” is dark chocolate. Dark chocolate may be high in calories, but it also contains antioxidants like flavonoids. Eating dark chocolate a few times each week results in a lower risk of heart disease. Make sure it is high quality dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao. Don’t forget to combine it with fresh fruit (like strawberries) for even more heart happiness!

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