February is American Heart Month. When you were younger, you may not have given a thought to your heart health and the foods you were consuming. But along with many other things, the heart changes as we grow older. Adults over the age of 65 are far more likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke, or develop heart disease. About 82 percent of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older.
Doctors agree that there are ways to prevent or delay heart problems. Exercise is one way, but a proper diet is key to heart health. So let’s look at some suggestions for your heart-healthy shopping list.
Add These to Your Heart-Health Shopping List
Colorful fruits and vegetables.
Multiple colors indicate concentrations of specific nutrients. Fruits and vegetables that have a dark green, deep orange or yellow color are nutritious. Berries are nutritious as well – including strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli are also good vegetable selections.
You might enjoy an occasional glass of grapefruit juice, but be aware that grapefruit juice and some medications do not mix well. The interaction can affect the way the medicine works and produce dangerous side effects, especially if you have high blood pressure or an irregular or abnormal heart beat. If you suffer from these, consult with your physician before enjoying your next glass.
Consuming nuts may lower bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which play a major role in the buildup of plaque deposits in arteries. They are also rich in fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids, which also benefit the heart. Walnuts and pecans are high in antioxidants, which Harvard Health lists along with other antioxidant foods that stabilize harmful by-products of the body’s energy-making machinery. These by-products, known as free radicals, can damage DNA, make LDL (bad) cholesterol even worse, and wreak havoc elsewhere in the body.
The dietary fiber in whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve cholesterol levels. Cereals like Grape Nuts, which do not contain extra sugar and provide fiber as well as a variety of nutrients, are a good choice. Fiber also helps control hunger because it is more filling.
Tuna, mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring, cod, trout, mahi mahi, and whitefish are rich in omega-3s and benefit the heart.
Beans, lentils, peas, and other legumes.
These foods also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. They are high in fiber and nutrients and low in fat and cholesterol-free.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet was developed in research by the National Institutes of Health. DASH is recognized not only for its ability to lower blood pressure but also lends itself to the prevention of osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
What to Replace for a Heart-Healthy Shopping List
If you are thinking about items to add to your list, what should you limit or eliminate entirely? Here is a list of foods that sound healthy, but aren’t, including:
- Breads labeled “wheat” or “multi-grain,” which are made from refined bleached flour and not actually whole grain (read the food label)
- Some pasta sauces that are loaded with sugar and high in fructose corn syrup, sodium, and fillers
- Prepared tuna, chicken, and shrimp salads are often filled with hidden fats and calories due to their high mayonnaise and oil content
Watch out for foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. This includes some margarines, vegetable shortening, baked goods, ready-to-use dough, and coffee creamers. Deep-fried foods are also a source of hydrogenated fats.
Highly processed foods contain high levels of salt and fat and hydrogenated oils. Bacon has high levels of sodium and preservatives. One slice of bacon accounts for 8 to 10 percent of the recommended daily sodium intake. Likewise, limit or eliminate processed meat like lunch meats and sausages.
Dried fruit often contains large amounts of sugar. Fruit snacks have little fruit but plenty of high fructose corn syrup and cane sugar. Instant ramen is loaded with sodium that boosts blood pressure. Also check out the nutrition information on frozen dinners, many of which possess large amounts of sodium as well.
Alcohol is another item to avoid. It is difficult to determine if the moderate consumption of red wine and can lower the risk for heart disease. The health benefit could be that a red wine drinker might be more likely to eat a heart-healthy diet. However, heavy drinking is linked to poor health outcomes, including heart conditions.
Nutrition Labels and Healthy Strategies
When you’re writing out your heart-healthy shopping list, learn what to look for on nutrition labels. The Food and Drug Administration provides information on how to read these labels to help you discover foods that are good for you.
Strategies to make a heart-healthy diet taste great:
- Sautee vegetables in sesame or olive oil
- Season food with spices instead of salt
- Sprinkle fruit with spices like nutmeg, clove, or cinnamon instead of sugar
- Replace candy with berries—blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc.
- Eat raw vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli or carrots instead of potato chips
- Try a veggie or turkey burger instead of a fast-food burger
- Exchange heavy cream-based soups for broth-based soups
Making a Change
You may find the transition to a healthier diet works better if you phase in some of the above foods as your system adjusts to new tastes and habits. It helps to not think of your new food choices as a temporary diet but as a permanent lifestyle—a replacement enabling you to live long and well.
Note: Please consult with your physician or a registered dietitian before making any significant changes to your diet.
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