5 Simple Ways to Boost Your Heart Health
You might have heard that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death among both men and women in the United States, but did you know that a healthy lifestyle can help prevent up to 80 percent of heart disease cases? This includes eating a healthy diet, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco, and controlling blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.
The American Heart Association refers to these seven keys to a heart-healthy lifestyle as “Life’s Simple 7.”
In March 2019, the American Heart Association released updated guidelines on the prevention of cardiovascular disease. The guidelines cover a variety of topics, including health care, tobacco and aspirin use, physical activity, and of course, healthy eating.
They recommended that adults eat a heart-healthy dietary pattern by:
- Emphasizing plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, lean protein and fish;
- Limiting foods high in saturated fats and dietary cholesterol (for example, meat and organ meats, full-fat dairy products, eggs and tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil);
- Minimizing trans fat, sodium (salt), processed meats, refined carbohydrates and sweetened beverages.
Here are a few simple things that my family does to follow these guidelines:
- Include a fruit and/or vegetable at every meal and snack, like oatmeal with apples or pumpkin, peanut butter sandwiches with fresh sliced fruit instead of jam, and a quick roasted vegetable like broccoli or asparagus as an easy dinner side.
- Focus on leaner proteins such as skinless chicken breasts, salmon, and plant proteins like lentils or tofu. We often marinate several pounds of chicken breasts and grill them up to last for several days in salads, sandwiches, burrito bowls, and more.
- Use unsaturated fats, like olive or canola oil, for roasting veggies, sautéing lean proteins, and making our own pesto sauce and salad dressings.
- Snack on nuts, whole grain crackers with hummus or peanut butter, or plain yogurt with chopped fruit and a touch of honey and cinnamon.
- Drink seltzer or fruit-infused water instead of beverages with added sugars or low-calorie sweeteners.
I think some people assume that because I’m a dietitian, treats are a rare thing in our house. Here’s the truth: sticking to an overall heart-healthy diet is what really counts, so don’t sweat satisfying a sweet tooth here and there. My family works in our favorite treats periodically, and we enjoy them just as much as everything else we eat.
I believe that food is meant to be enjoyed, and eating by these guidelines can definitely be enjoyable. It might take a little cooking skills refresher to learn how to prepare foods in a tasty way, using new flavors and cooking techniques, but I’m confident that anyone can do it!
Emily A. Callahan, MPH, RDN has undergraduate and graduate degrees in nutrition and public health, and has been credentialed as a registered dietitian nutritionist for more than a decade. She currently consults with national organizations, specializing in health and nutrition research, communication, and policy, and as a science writer and editor. She lives in the Washington, DC metro area with her husband, two young children, and a black cat named Pickles.