5 Simple Rules for Eating Heart Healthy
Updated: Feb 16
Guest post by Kristina Adams Smith
Heart healthy eating is possible regardless if you have years of unhealthy eating or you just need to fine tune your diet. Making small changes to diet and lifestyle can have big impacts on your health while lowering risk factors of heart disease. Knowing which foods can increase your risk of heart disease is important to opening yourself to the opportunity of changing the eating habits holding you to an unhealthy lifestyle. Once you know which foods to eat more of and which foods to limit, leading a heart healthy lifestyle can be much easier to manage.
There are 5 simple rules for eating a heart healthy diet: focus on fiber, cut out saturated fats, limit sodium, manage portion sizes, and chose to cook at home more often.
1. Focus on Fiber
Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and beans. If it is grown and edible, it is most likely a fiber. Some fibers reduce the risk of heart disease by blocking the absorption of fats and cholesterol. These foods reduce blood sugar levels and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol too. Other fibers support a healthy digestive system and insulin sensitivity, which contributes to reducing the risk of diabetes (Healthline, Norris).
Eating a variety of foods rich with fiber contributes to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, prevents some types of cancer, lowers the risk of eye and digestive problems, and has a positive effect upon blood sugar” (Harvard, TH Chan).
Health Tip #1: Make access to fruits and vegetables easy.
Keep fruit bowl in sight on counter at home and even at work
Keep plenty of vegetables cut up and ready to eat in the refrigerator, ready to grab for snacks
Health Tip #2: Make a conscious choice regarding which grains enter your home.
Choose high fiber breakfast cereals – about 5 grams per serving or more
Substitute white bread for a whole grain or brown rice for white rice
Increase intake of oatmeal, oats and oat based products, like Cheerios
2. Cut out saturated fats and trans fats
Of all the diet changes you can make, cutting out saturated fats and trans fats is possibly the most important. Both of these fats raise LDL cholesterol, which is more often known as “bad” cholesterol because it collects in the walls of your blood vessels and increases the risk for heart attack and stroke. Trans fat is a double whammy. This non-natural, factory produced fat not only increases “bad” cholesterol but lowers HDL cholesterol (ie. the “good” cholesterol).
Health Tip #3: Incorporate healthy proteins into your diet.
Choose low-fat proteins like fish, skinless chicken, and trim visible fat from meat.
Add nuts and seeds to your meals. Saute into a stir-fry, sprinkle on some yogurt, or just snack on a handful of almonds.
Health Tip #4: Perform food swaps and substitutions.
Choose flavored water over cola
Exchange coconut cream for heavy cream
Use 2 egg whites instead of one whole egg
Purchase plain yogurt -- instead of flavored yogurt -- and sweeten with honey or fruits
Use avocado as a spread (in lue of butter) on top of whole grain toast
Use nuts to replace croutons in salads and soups.
Health Tip #5: Increase your awareness by reading labels.
Look for ‘partially hydrogenated’, which means there are trans-fat (example: microwave popcorn, snack foods, chips, crackers)
3. Limit Sodium
The human body requires a limited amount of sodium to function. It helps conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles, and maintain the proper balance of water and minerals. But too much sodium in the diet can lead to high blood pressure. High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” because its symptoms are not always obvious. It’s one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 killer worldwide. American Heart Association recommends no more than one teaspoon of salt per day for an adult.
Health Tip #6: Season with other spices.
When cooking, use salt-free spices to increase the flavor and complexity of your recipe. Add salt last.
Health Tip #7: Avoid processed foods.
Reduce the use of canned foods and processed foods, which use salt as a preservative.
Look on labels for reduced or low sodium
4. Manage portion sizes
How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Overeating, particular fat-heavy foods, contributes to excessive calorie intake and leads to weight gain. Excess weight means your heart must work harder. This often leads to high blood pressure, which as you know, is a major cause of heart disease.
Health Tip #8: It is all about moderation. (Spend a week understanding portion size.)
Use measuring cups and other visual triggers to help control portions (ie. a 3-oz serving of lean beef, pork, or poultry is about the size of a standard deck of playing cards).
When eating out, share an entree with your significant other.
5. Choose to cook at home.
We all love convenience. And at the end of a hectic day, eating out or ordering in might feel the easiest option. However, the convenience of restaurants and processed foods can take a major tool on your mood and health. These foods are typically more energy dense with higher fats, chemical additives, sugar, salt, and calories as well as containing lower nutritional value. This combination is a dangerous one that contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes (Cambridge University Press, Wolfson).
When you prepare your own meals, you have more control over the ingredients. You can ensure you and your family eat fresh, wholesome meals that are rich with fiber, incorporate healthy fats, limit sodium, and are a healthy portion for everyone sitting at your table. Plus, cooking it is a great way to manage stress and spend time with others.
Health Tip #9: Cooking at home doesn’t have to be complicated or elaborate.
Create meals that require only one dish
Loading a slow cooker with meat and vegetables in the morning allows you to come home to a piping hot meal at night, with minimal preparation and little cleanup.
Bulk Cook -- Make more than you’ll eat and store portion size meals into reusable containers to have all week long
Health Tip #10: Adopt heart healthy cooking methods
Invest in heart healthy cookbooks or magazines for new recipes
Bake, broil, grill, roast, lightly stir fry or sauté; limit fried foods
Health Tip #11: Trick yourself into more nutritional cooking
Make healthy substitutes – choose 1% milk vs whole milk
Add more vegetables and legumes (beans) to entrees at home, such as meat loaf, casseroles and soups
Cook with healthy fats/oils – canola, olive or safflower oils instead of butter
Once you start incorporating these tips into your life you will find that a heart healthy lifestyle will be both doable and enjoyable.
Making healthy choices today to improve your heart health will have a positive impact on your overall quality of life and wealth. If you enter your golden years with good eating habits and a healthy relationship with food, you’ll see your benefits in several ways.
The insurance rates -- both health insurance and life insurance costs -- are more likely to be lower.
Healthy diet choices correlates to longer life expectancy and better quality of life.
The longer you are healthy and the longer you can have your investments work for you, the longer your time horizon.
Cooking is also very enjoyable. Try one of my favorite chili recipes! My Turkey Chili takes only 11 ingredients and 30 minutes to prepare. Plus, it's ready in an hour and can feed 8 (so invite some guests over or eat chili for a couple of days. When you try it, message me. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Looking to see whether your investments will last as long as your healthy body. I’d be happy to forecast your growth as a client of Peak Wealth Planning.
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About the Author
Kristina Adams Smith -- founder of Sliced Right Nutrition, a nutrition consulting business --
is a registered dietitian with over 20 years experience working with patients in clinical settings at both Carle Clinic and Sara Bush Lincoln. She received her graduate degree in dietetics from Eastern Illinois University. She served as a media representative for the Eastern Illinois Dietetic Association for 9 years, and has been featured in many television segments, cooking demonstrations and print news articles. Kristina’s main areas of expertise include: weight management, culinary nutrition, diabetes, heart disease and overall wellness. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, as well as contact her on LinkedIn.
About Peter and Peak Wealth Planning
Peter Newman is a Chartered Financial Advisor (CFA) and president of Peak Wealth Planning. He works with individuals nationwide that have accumulated wealth through company stock, ESOP shares, real estate, or running a business. Peter applies his unique background to help clients achieve their specific goals and enjoy peace of mind.
Peak Wealth Planning provides concierge services to meet your wealth management needs. Services include: financial planning, investment management, esop diversification, retirement income, insurance, and estate planning advice. Peak Wealth Planning is a fee-based financial advisor based in Champaign, Illinois, and Fraser, Colorado.