4 Heart-Healthy Swaps for Your Diet

4 Heart-Healthy Swaps for Your Diet

You’d be hard-pressed to go through an entire day without seeing the term “heart-healthy.” It’s on cereal boxes and other product labels in the grocery store and even on restaurant menus. Why? Since 1950, heart disease has ranked as the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, surpassing cancer.

But that’s not all. An unhealthy diet tops the list of risk factors for heart disease and is directly related to other heart disease risk factors, such as being overweight and obese and having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. 

In this blog, the team of physicians, registered dieticians, and nutritionists at Cardio Metabolic Institute share their insights on heart health and some smart heart-healthy swaps for your diet to get you started.

Why a healthy heart matters

Let’s start this topic by defining the central role your heart plays in your overall heart. Essentially, every system, organ, tissue, and cell in your body needs a steady supply of nutrient-rich blood to function properly and optimally. Your heart and your arteries make that happen.

In an average lifetime, a heart will beat an estimated 2.5 billion times, pumping millions of gallons of blood to every part of the body. Along for the ride with the oxygenated blood come nutrients, hormones, and other cells vital to the optimal operation of your body.   

For the heart and arteries to do their jobs, there needs to be a sufficient force within your blood vessels to initially pump blood from the heart to the lungs where it gets oxygen. And to complete the job, sufficient force is needed to transport the oxygenated blood through arteries to the rest of your body.   

If your heart has to shift into high gear to pump blood, the pressure within the walls of your arteries becomes excessive, known as high blood pressure. Untreated, high blood pressure can damage or block blood vessels, which may ultimately lead to heart disease, a heart attack, or stroke.

Eating healthy supports heart health

The good news is that committing to a healthy lifestyle, including eating balanced nutritional meals can greatly enhance your overall health and significantly reduce your risk of developing heart disease.  

1. Swap out red meat for lean meats and fish

Proteins play a role in the optimal operation of your body in two critical ways – fueling your energy and carrying oxygen throughout your body in your blood. While red meat like a fat, juicy steak is a source of protein, it also is high in saturated fat, which may contribute to developing high cholesterol, putting you at a higher risk for heart disease.

While an occasional steak is OK, swap out red meats like beef, lamb, and pork for leaner meats like poultry such as chicken and turkey as well as fish and seafood. Fish such as salmon, tuna, and tilapia are high-protein, low-fat options that are packed with vitamins. 

2. Ditch the salty chips and go nuts

With snacking, who doesn’t love a chip or two, or the whole bag? While they may taste good, salty snacks like potato chips not only have minimal nutritional value, but they’re also jam-packed with salt, fat, and calories. Do yourself a favor and swap out chips for heart-healthy nuts like raw almonds or walnuts.  

3. Give processed and ultra-processed foods the cold shoulder 

Processed and ultra-processed foods like lunch meat, frozen meals, and fast food, sure are handy when you don’t have time to prepare a meal from scratch, but like salty snacks, they typically contain lots of salt, sugar, preservatives, and empty calories. Research links processed foods with cardiovascular events and heart disease.

With a little meal planning, you can cut down on your reliance on processed foods. When you do opt for processed food, check labels and choose options with less salt or those marked “low sodium.”

4. Think green instead of white side dishes

When you’re meal planning, incorporate high-fiber green leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and collard greens instead of starches like white potatoes or rice. These veggies are low in carbohydrates and are packed with vitamins and minerals. Plus, because they’re high in fiber, they’ll make you feel full longer. 

And as if that weren’t enough, green vegetables can help reduce internal inflammation and lower high cholesterol – two risk factors for heart disease.

If you have concerns about your diet and heart disease and you’re ready to begin your journey to a healthier you, contact Cardio Metabolic Institute at our office in Somerset or Monroe Township, New Jersey, for a nutrition consultation.

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