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How to Keep a Heart Healthy Diet

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Added on February 17, 2015
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So far this month we have covered heart disease facts, exercise to maintain heart health, and supplements that improve heart health but today we cover the most important one. What should you be eating to promote good heart health?

  • Limit solid fat. Reduce the amount of solid fats like butter, margarine, or shortening you add to food when cooking or serving. Instead of cooking with butter, for example, flavor your dishes with herbs or lemon juice. You can also limit solid fat by trimming fat off your meat or choosing leaner proteins.
  • Substitute. Swap out high-fat foods for their lower-fat counterparts. Top your baked potato, for example, with salsa or low-fat yogurt rather than butter, or use low-sugar fruit spread on your toast instead of margarine. When cooking, use liquid oils like canola, olive, safflower, or sunflower, and substitute two egg whites for one whole egg in a recipe.
  • Be label-savvy. Check food labels on any prepared foods. Many snacks, even those labeled "reduced fat," may be made with oils containing trans fats. One clue that a food has some trans fat is the phrase "partially hydrogenated." And look for hidden fat; refried beans may contain lard, or breakfast cereals may have significant amounts of fat.
  • Change your habits. The best way to avoid saturated or trans fats is to change your lifestyle practices. Instead of chips, snack on fruit or vegetables. Challenge yourself to cook with a limited amount of butter. At restaurants, ask that sauces or dressings be put on the side—or left off altogether.
  • Avoid saturated or trans fats. Foods containing high levels of saturated fats or trans fats—such as potato chips and packaged cookies—can increase your cholesterol levels much more significantly than cholesterol- containing foods such as eggs. Saturated fat and trans fat both increase LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Trans fat lowers your levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol, which can put you at increased cardiovascular risk.
  • Make smart choices. Choose foods rich in unsaturated fats, fiber, and protein. Fruits, vegetables, fish, beans, nuts, and seeds are all great cholesterol regulators. The best foods for lowering cholesterol are oatmeal, fish, walnuts (and other nuts), olive oil, and foods fortified with sterols or stanols—substances found in plants that help block the absorption of cholesterol.
  • Remember that labels can be deceiving. Navigating food labels can often be complicated since packaged foods with labels like "cholesterol free" or "low cholesterol" aren't necessarily heart-healthy; they might even contain cholesterol that's heart-risky. Stick to basics whenever possible: fruit, veggies, nuts, and lean proteins.
  • Breakfast better.  For breakfast choose a high-fiber breakfast cereal—one with five or more grams of fiber per serving. Or add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.
  • Try a new grain. Experiment with brown rice, wild rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta, and bulgur. These alternatives are higher in fiber than their more mainstream counterparts—and you may find you love their tastes.
  • Bulk up your baking. When baking at home, substitute whole-grain flour for half or all of the white flour, since whole-grain flour is heavier than white flour. In yeast breads, use a bit more yeast or let the dough rise longer. Try adding crushed bran cereal or unprocessed wheat bran to muffins, cakes, and cookies.
  • Add flaxseed. Flaxseeds are small brown seeds that are high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower your total blood cholesterol. You can grind the seeds in a coffee grinder or food processor and stir a teaspoon of them into yogurt, applesauce, or hot cereal.
  • Keep fruit and vegetables at your fingertips. Wash and cut fruit and veggies and put them in your refrigerator for quick and healthy snacks. Choose recipes that feature these high-fiber ingredients, like veggie stir-fries or fruit salad.
  • Incorporate veggies into your cooking. Add pre-cut fresh or frozen vegetables to soups and sauces. For example, mix chopped frozen broccoli into prepared spaghetti sauce or toss fresh baby carrots into stews.
  • Don't leave out the legumes. Add kidney beans, peas, or lentils to soups or black beans to a green salad.
  • Make snacks count. Fresh and dried fruit, raw vegetables, and whole-grain crackers are all good ways to add fiber at snack time. An occasional handful of nuts is also a healthy, high-fiber snack.
  • Reduce canned or processed foods. Much of the salt you eat comes from canned or processed foods like soups or frozen dinners—even poultry or other meats often have salt added during processing. Eating fresh foods, looking for unsalted meats, and making your own soups or stews can dramatically reduce your sodium intake.
  • Cook at home, using spices for flavor. Cooking for yourself enables you to have more control over your salt intake. Make use of the many delicious alternatives to salt. Try fresh herbs like basil, thyme, or chives. In the dried spices aisle, you can find alternatives such as allspice, bay leaves, or cumin to flavor your meal without sodium.
  • Substitute reduced sodium versions, or salt substitutes. Choose your condiments and packaged foods carefully, looking for foods labeled sodium free, low sodium, or unsalted. Better yet, use fresh ingredients and cook without salt.
  • Make healthy substitutions. Choose substitutions like 1% or skimmed milk instead of whole milk, soft margarine for butter, and lean meats like chicken and fish in place of ribs or ground meat. These substitutions can save you an entire day's worth of saturated fat.
  • Make foods ready-to-eat. When you make healthy food easy to grab during your busy week, you're more likely to stay heart-healthy. When you come home from grocery shopping, cut up vegetables and fruits and store them in the fridge, ready for the next meal or when you are looking for a ready-to-eat snack.
  • Use your freezer.  Make healthy eating easier by freezing heart-healthy foods in individual portions. Freeze fruits such as bananas, grapes, and orange slices to make them more fun to eat for children. Be careful with portion sizes: the recommended serving of cooked meat is about the size of a deck of cards, while a serving of pasta should be about the size of a baseball.
  • Create a library of heart-healthy recipes. Stock up on heart-healthy cookbooks and recipes for cooking ideas. The internet is full of food blogs and websites devoted to healthy cooking methods and recipes, and a local library can be a great source for cookbooks as well.
  • Use heart-healthy cooking methods. Just as important as picking healthy foods at the grocery store is how you cook those foods into healthy meals. Use low-fat methods: you can bake, broil, microwave, roast, steam, poach, lightly stir fry, or sauté—using a small amount of vegetable or olive oil, reduced sodium broth, and spices.
  • Cook just twice a week and make food for the whole week. When you're cooking healthful meals, make extra helpings. Store as meals in reusable containers—or directly on plates—for easy reheating and ready-to-eat food the rest of the week. Cooking healthy food ahead this way is perhaps the most time-saving, money-saving, and heart-saving strategy available.
  • Understand serving sizes. A serving size is a specific amount of food, defined by common measurements such as cups, ounces, or pieces—and a healthy serving size may be a lot smaller than you're used to. The recommended serving size for pasta is ½ cup, while a serving of meat, fish, or chicken is 2 to 3 ounces (57-85 grams). Judging serving size is a learned skill, so you may need to use measuring cups, spoons, and a food scale to help.
  • Eyeball it. Once you have a better idea of what a serving should be, you can estimate your portion. You can use common objects for reference; for example, a serving of pasta should be about the size of a baseball (slightly smaller than a cricket ball), while a serving of meat, fish, or chicken is about the size and thickness of a deck of cards.
  • Beware of restaurant portions. Portions served in restaurants are often more than anyone needs. Split an entrée with your dining companion, or take half your meal home for tomorrow's lunch.

For a full explanations of all these heart healthy tips, food recommendations, are more visitThe Help Guide.

 

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