What does healthy eating mean to you?
You may have a lot of health goals but keeping your heart in good shape should definitely be at the top of everyone’s list.
In general, healthy diet and an active lifestyle are good ways to maintain a healthy heart. What does it mean to ‘eat for your heart’, though? Different foods have different impacts on your heart.
We’ve compiled a quick guide to heart-healthy eating.
Fiber is your friend
Most people don’t get enough fiber in their diets. High fiber foods are great for your heart, as fiber can help balance your cholesterol levels and assist with maintaining healthy blood pressure.
To better understand the importance of fiber and how it works in your body, Dr.Oz breaks it down:
“Dietary fiber, […] includes the parts of plant foods your body can’t digest or absorb. Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates — which your body breaks down and absorbs — fiber isn’t digested by your body. Instead, it passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine and colon and out of your body. Fiber is commonly classified as soluble, which dissolves in water, or insoluble, which doesn’t dissolve.”
Common sources of insoluble fiber are whole grains, carrots, celery, cabbage and kidney beans.
Soluble fiber is found in oatmeal, lentils, peas, apples and citrus fruits.
For a fiber-friendly food swap, buy multigrain bread instead of white. You can also try switching from a bowl of cold cereal in the morning to a heart-healthy bowl of oatmeal (not instant), where you can be creative with your toppings — try a combination of fruit, wheat bran and all-natural peanut butter (all of which are additional sources of fiber). If you need a little sweet stuff to thoroughly enjoy your oatmeal, opt for honey or maple syrup because they have nutritional value, which regular sugar does not.
Keeping your cholesterol levels in check is important for heart health. There are two types of cholesterol: HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein), known as ‘good’ cholesterol and LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) — the bad cholesterol.
John Donovan at WebMD explains how fiber lowers cholesterol. “Soluble fiber can reduce both “bad” LDL and overall cholesterol, perhaps by binding with cholesterol particles in your digestive system and moving them out of the body before they’re absorbed.”
Remember, everything in moderation. Too much fiber can cause digestive issues, so start slowly and be sure to drink 8-10 glasses of water a day. The Mayo Clinic advises men to get 30-38 grams of fiber a day and women 21-25 grams.
Remember to always check the labels on products before you buy to get a solid understanding of what you are actually putting into your body.
Harvard Health further explains how to better understand the labels when choosing products for fiber content:
“A label can claim a food is a “good source” of fiber if it delivers 10% of your daily dose of fiber—about 2.5 grams per serving. The terms “rich in,” “high in,” or “an excellent source of” fiber are allowed if the product contains 5 or more grams of fiber per serving.”
Beyond that, consider how processed the fiber might be. Whole foods will always be superior sources of nutrition, in particular when considering fiber. A cold cereal or whole wheat bread may contain whole grains but because the grain is so heavily processed, it doesn’t actually benefit your body all that much.
Once a whole grain has been pulverized into a fine powder and then formed into a flake or baked into bread, the fiber is not going to do what you want it to in your digestive tract.
Eat the rainbow
You’ve probably heard that the more color on your plate, the better. Fruits and vegetables are filled with antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and fiber. Having more color variety means more of these important nutrients in your diet.
Ensuring that you eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, such as dark berries, mangoes, apples, beets, green beans, peppers and carrots means that you get more vitamins and minerals.
Don’t forget about leafy greens, such as spinach or kale, for an extra boost of iron and magnesium.
Ideally, you should try to have something orange, something green and something red or purple every day.
The American Heart Association recommends that “an average adult consuming 2,000 calories daily should aim for 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day.”
If you’re choosing canned vegetables make sure you compare labels to find the lowest sodium option. Also, buy canned fruit brands that are packaged in water, with no sugar added and also not sweetened with sucralose or other artificial sweeteners.
Frozen fruit and vegetables are typically healthier than canned options. They don’t usually have anything added and they are frozen when ripe — in off seasons they can even be more nutritious than fresh produce.
Drinking your fruit is another way to get its benefits. Holly St. Lifer at AARP states that: “Drinking 3 cups of cranberry juice daily can raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels by 10 percent and reduce heart disease by 40 percent, a study at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania showed.”
It’s important to remember to choose juices that have no added sugar. If straight cranberry juice is too tart for you, you can blend it with other fresh juices (rather than choosing a sweetened brand).
Lower your salt intake
Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure and, in turn, possibly cause hypertension. Eleanor Roberts at Everydayhealth.com explains how: “kidneys cannot process and eliminate salt beyond a certain amount, which influences blood pressure in the arteries.”
No one likes bland food, though and most people tend to season with salt when cooking. If you are trying to lower your sodium levels, try seasoning with herbs and spices too. Oregano, turmeric and cumin are great choices to add a little more zest to your food. Plus, they add their own health benefits.
Cutting salt out completely isn’t ideal. For one thing, it is not the salt you add yourself that really impacts your sodium levels and heart health. It’s the salt you don’t see — the salt that’s found in many prepackaged foods. Processed foods often have more salt than you would or could ever add yourself to whole foods.
It’s also important to remember that your body needs salt. If you cut out processed foods and just use a little sea salt in your cooking and at your table, you’ll be fine.
Obviously, if your doctor has told you to cut salt completely because of your specific medical condition, you should be consulting with them before making any major changes.
Cut down on the sugar… way down
At first, replacing high-fat foods with skim options may seem like the simplest way to better your health, but in actuality, it’s not. It’s better to focus on cutting out sugar which often means avoiding foods labeled ‘fat-free’ or ‘low-fat’, as fat is often replaced with sugars or other harmful chemicals to improve the taste and texture.
According to helpguide.org, “The latest research suggests that added sugars may contribute to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease as much as, or even more than, added salt. To reduce your risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends that the daily intake of sugar should be no more than 6 teaspoons or 100 calories for women and 9 teaspoons or 150 calories a day for men.”
Sugar may give you a quick energy boost, but afterward, it’s usually followed by a crash. Over time, this puts stress on your heart.
There are many foods that contain natural sugars, such as fruit. Those foods are good for your heart as they have fiber and antioxidants and other heart-healthy nutrients. When natural sugars are combined with fiber (as they are naturally in fruit) they don’t do the same kind of damage to your body.
Once again, it’s usually packaged and processed foods that contain large amounts of sugar. As with salt, these foods can contain more than you could possibly add to your own cooking.
Take yogurt, for example. A single serving container of (allegedly “healthy”) flavored yogurt can contain 5 teaspoons of sugar! If you took plain yogurt and added your own jam, maple syrup or honey you would never add that much.
Eat good fats
Don’t avoid all fats if you want to maintain a healthy heart! There are certain fats that are essential to good heart health. These are saturated and unsaturated fats.
Unsaturated fats are the omegas — 3, 6 and 9, which are found in oils such as sunflower, flax and coconut, as well as fish, nuts, seeds and berries. Make sure the oils you choose are cold-pressed and organic such as our Panaseeda Sunflower Oil.
Saturated fat — also healthy in moderation — is found in foods such as avocados, meat and dairy products.
If you want a deeper understanding of how many omegas you need and how to get them, check out our post on omega fatty acids.
As for trans fats — avoid these altogether. Manufactured trans fats are usually found in margarine, fried foods, commercially packaged cookies and cakes or any product that contains hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.
My Health Alberta recommends that you “Read food labels and limit the amount of trans fat you eat. Trans fat raises the levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and also lowers high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol in the blood.”
Always check the labels of all food products before you buy.
A good choice for healthy fat is organic, unrefined sunflower oil. Sunflower oil contains a balance of essential fatty acids and no saturated fats, which means it works to reduce cholesterol levels within your body. Check out our post on the benefits of sunflower oil here.
Our delicious sunflower oil is made entirely of Perfectly Pressed™ organic seeds. Panaseeda Sunflower Oil is unrefined, which means you can ‘t cook with it, but it is great drizzled over already cooked vegetables or used as a salad dressing.
Try out these healthy eating tips to keep your heart happy!