Dieting for a Healthy Heart

by Amy Roper
(last updated August 23, 2013)

Your heart, which is about the size of your fist, weighs less than one pound but can perform enough work in an hour to lift 3,000 pounds. It beats 100,000 times in a day. Even at rest, your heart works twice as hard as the leg muscles of a person sprinting. In under a minute, your heart can pump blood to every cell in your body. The heart is an amazing muscle—unfortunately; we don't always give it the respect it deserves when it comes to taking care of it. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. This doesn't have to remain the case, however, if people would habitually follow a heart-healthy diet.

When it comes to keeping your heart pumping strong, consider replacing some of the foods you are used to with healthier alternatives. Replace animal products high in saturated fat, trans-fat, cholesterol, and salt with heart-healthy fats such as fish, olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds. Proteins are an important part of keeping your heart working, but choose your protein wisely. Try low-fat poultry, fish, egg whites, skim milk, soy, and yogurt, as well as legumes like beans, peas, and lentils. Replace refined grains like white bread, white rice, and regular pasta with whole-grain products. Eat more fruits and vegetables; these not only take the place of what might be bad food, but can help increase resistance to cardiovascular disease. Add ground flaxseed to cereal, baked goods, or smoothies.

There are a few things you should reduce or cut from your diet, particularly sodium—eat only one teaspoon a day and half that if you are susceptible to high blood pressure or over fifty. If you buy prepared foods like frozen meals or canned soups, choose the low sodium option. You also want to avoid overeating or eating too often at restaurants, which commonly give oversized portions high in salt and unhealthy fats.

Replacing less healthy foods does not have to feel like deprivation, and you might even find these food alternatives to be more delicious than what you were previously eating. Plan ahead and create menus so that you're more likely to follow through with your diet when faced with a time crunch. Buy vegetables that are precut and easy to transport in snack-size containers, and keep fruit out in a bowl where you'll remember to eat it. Finally, if you are feeling deprived, do allow an occasional, small treat, which will keep things enjoyable and will not derail your diet. After all, if you can follow these steps, you will likely find that eating for your heart is less of a diet and more of a lifestyle.

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