Eating for the Heart: Diet and Your Overall Heart Health

Eating for the Heart: Diet and Your Overall Heart Health

Numerous studies have shown that the foods we eat have a direct impact on hypertension and overall heart health. A diet built around fresh fruits and vegetables is better than a diet loaded with sugar, sodium, and saturated fat, all three of which should be avoided.

However, knowing what to eat is only half the battle. You also need to build good habits and follow through to make sure you actually eat those healthy foods and avoid the temptation of processed foods like chips and other snacks.

For many people, that can prove to be far more of a challenge. Grocery store shelves are lined with an overwhelming array of prepackaged foods that are engineered to be delicious, many of which take far less time to prepare than a home-cooked meal. That’s why food preparation is just as important as food selection when adopting a more heart-healthy lifestyle.

Thankfully, it’s never been easier to find good advice online. Modern dietary recommendations are relatively uniform, with programs like Canada’s Food Guide and the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s DASH diet both recommending fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meats, fish, and natural fats like those found in nuts and avocados. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension, and the diet itself has been proven to lower blood pressure when measured against the average North American diet.

People’s eating patterns, on the other hand, are far more idiosyncratic. There is no one strategy that will work for everyone, which is why it is so important to develop habits that fit with your existing lifestyle.  

If you are looking to make a change, it’s usually better to start small, whether you’re adding an extra serving of vegetables to lunch and dinner or ditching juice in favour of real fruit. People who make large, sweeping changes are seldom able to stick to those changes, and are likely to revert to their previous behaviour. If you can make small adjustments and get them to stick, it can help build a better foundation that will allow you to make more changes over time.

Home-cooked meals are usually healthier than the alternatives, so it also helps to find ways to make food preparation more fun and more engaging. With proper meal planning, you can cook enough at dinner to give yourself a healthy lunch for the next day, and make sure you have an ample supply of nuts, apples, and other healthy snacks to address between-meal cravings. Doing so will make you less likely to give in to temptation when you’re hungry.

Having said that, it’s OK to forgive yourself if you have the occasional decadent treat. Highly restrictive diets are rarely effective for long periods of time, and a heart conscious diet focuses on eating clean foods, not eating less food. If you’re regularly filling up on fruits and veggies, chances are you’ll naturally end up eating fewer sweets.

At the very least, reading nutrition labels and being more aware of sodium, sugar, and saturated fat will help you make better food decisions. That small step is still good for your heart, and can eventually lead to much healthier results!

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