Heart disease is preventable, yet, it is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. The term heart disease encompasses a disease that affects both the heart and blood vessels.
Some of the risk factors include: a family history of heart disease, having conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or obesity. Personal heritage also plays a role. The following races are more at risk of dying from heart disease: Asian American, African, Hispanic, Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander.
Other risk factors that can lead to heart problems are smoking, a high amount of stress, physical inactivity, inadequate sleep, and an unhealthy diet.
If an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for heart disease, what exactly is a “healthy” diet?
Here are 3 types of foods to avoid and 3 to include to get you on the right track.
3 Foods to Avoid
1. Avoid Trans Fats
- Shortening and some margarine
- Commercially baked goods
- Fried foods and fast foods
- Some microwave popcorn products
Trans fats, also known as trans-fatty acids, are added to foods to prolong shelf life, improve texture and enhance the taste.
Trans fats raise levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. This can lead to a buildup of fat in blood vessels and arteries which leads to heart disease and stroke.
Many companies are working toward reducing or removing the trans fats in their products. As a good rule of thumb, check the Nutrition Facts label and ingredients for “trans fats” or “partially hydrogenated oils”.
2. Avoid foods containing added sugars
- Sugary beverages such as soda, juice, and energy drinks
- Fruits canned in syrup and candies
- Sugary frosted cereals
These foods are quick to digest due to their lack of fiber, making it hard to sustain the energy levels you need throughout the day. Eating a diet high in refined (aka simple) carbohydrates can increase triglyceride levels, fat in the bloodstream.
3. Avoid processed meats
- Hot dogs
- Cold cuts
- Sausages and bacon
Processed meats have high amounts of sodium, unhealthy saturated fats, and additives such as nitrates. A diet high in sodium, saturated fats, and nitrates can cause damage to blood vessels, water retention, and increase inflammation – all those mentioned symptoms increase the risk of heart disease.
3 Foods to include
If you are interested in lowering your risk for heart disease, make small goals and changes to follow a more healthy diet. Also consider other risk factors including smoking, physical inactivity, stress, and inadequate sleep along with your healthy meal plan.
If you are already suffering from heart disease, the following healthy foods can be beneficial.
1. Include fiber
- Soluble fiber
- nuts and seeds
- oatmeal, lentils, chickpeas, and beans
- apples, bananas, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes
- Insoluble fiber
- whole grains (look for “whole grain” listed first under ingredients)
- cucumbers, celery, green beans
- raisins, strawberries
All foods with fiber can help improve digestion and glucose levels. Soluble fiber is the type that specifically helps to lower bad cholesterol.
Suggested recipe with a good amount of soluble fiber: Roast Chickpea Salad
2. Include lean proteins
- Tofu, beans, lentils
- Eggs and yogurt
- Skinless chicken breast, turkey, beef tenderloin
- Salmon is a fantastic choice with a good amount of Omega 3s
Heart-healthy doesn’t mean bland.
3. Include omega-3 fatty acids
- Fatty fish and seafood (salmon, tuna, herring, and shrimp)
- Chia and flax seeds, walnuts, edamame, and kidney beans
- Fish oil and flaxseed oil
Suggested Recipe: Easy Yogurt Parfait
Fish sources of omega-3 fatty acids eaten twice a week have been shown to lower your risk of dying from heart disease. Other benefits of foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include: increasing levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, reducing your risk of heart disease, helping with memory and may help in the treatment or prevention of anxiety and depression.
Author: Meghan P Myatt (Registered Dietitian)