Dr. Henock Saint-Jaques and our team here at Harlem Cardiology know firsthand how intimately related diet and heart health are. In other words, spring cleaning your diet isn’t just a fad. It’s a potentially life-saving modification that can help reduce your risk of heart attack and strokes.
Read on to explore these tips for giving your diet a heart-friendly makeover.
Toss anything that’s not good for your heart
As with any spring cleaning agenda, the first step is to get rid of anything that’s not serving you. Before you can load up your pantry and fridge with good-for-your-heart foods, you first have to make room by tossing anything that can negatively impact your heart health.
- Refined and highly processed snacks
- Snacks high in sodium
- Old or expired oil (it can go rancid)
- Anything that contains partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats
- Frozen food that has been deep fried
- Processed deli meat and hot dogs (high in nitrates and sodium)
- Rotisserie chicken and canned soup (both high in sodium)
While occasional treats are fine in moderation, it’s important to avoid overloading your pantry with treats. This can make it hard to resist snacking. If these seem like a lot of changes at once, try making one small change at a time and remember why you’re embarking on this spring cleaning mission 一 your heart!
Eat more plants
Diet is a key factor in overall heart health, and that starts with plants. The bulk of your diet should consist of fresh fruits, vegetables, and 100% whole grains. The American Heart Association (AHA) refers to this as “plant-forward” or “plant-based” eating, but it doesn’t mean you have to eliminate meat altogether. It simply places a high emphasis on consuming more plants, especially dark, leafy greens, legumes, broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, and brussel sprouts.
Specifically, the AHA notes that eating a plant-forward diet reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
Ready to add more plants to your diet? Keep these tips in mind:
- Purchase organic produce when possible, using the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen shopping guides
- Store produce in mesh produce bags in the fridge rather than plastic (they’ll stay fresher longer)
- Choose only 100% whole grains, including barley, farro, bulgur, and buckwheat
- Keep a bowl of fresh fruit on your counter 一 having a healthy snack within reach can help you avoid snacking on a less healthy option
Not only do plants deliver vitamins (such as vitamins C and A), but many of them are rich in fiber. Fiber is well-known for its ability to support your digestive system, but the benefits don’t stop there. Fiber can help control blood sugar, lower cholesterol levels, and help you maintain a healthy weight. You can find fiber in beans, berries, pears, broccoli, and oats.
Reduce red meat intake
Eating red meat and processed meat (such as deli meat or hot dogs) increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The AHA estimates that for every 1.1 serving of red meat, your risk goes up 22%. According to the National Institute of Health, eating red meat daily triples your levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a chemical connected to heart disease.
Ready to cut back on red meat? You don’t need to miss out on protein if you keep these tips in mind:
- Add more nut butter to your pantry (look for single-ingredient varieties to avoid added oils and sugars)
- Add legumes to your daily menu
- Add jars of seeds to your pantry and sprinkle them on salads
- Stock your pantry with canned fish
- Add fresh wild-caught fish to your weekly menu
Fish is particularly good for your heart since it’s loaded with omega 3 fatty acids, a healthy fat.
Add in spices
Instead of adding salt for flavor (which can contribute to hypertension), season your food with fresh herbs and dried spices. Not only is this a low-calorie way to flavor your food, many spices and herbs provide additional benefits. Turmeric, for example, can reduce your risk of heart disease.
Make healthier swaps for snacks and desserts
When cravings hit, make sure you have a guilt-free, healthy alternative ready. For example, have organic air-popped popcorn instead of potato chips. Or, if you have a sweet tooth, try protein balls 一 blend dates, cocoa powder, coconut flakes, stevia, walnut butter 一 instead of a chocolate bar.
Questions about your heart health? Wondering what dietary changes you need to make to help manage conditions like hypertension or high cholesterol? Don’t hesitate to call our Madison Avenue office at 646-381-2181 or visit our website to make an appointment.