How Diet Impacts Your Cardiovascular Health

Learn which food groups are best for maintaining a healthy heart.

The foods we eat have an enormous impact on our heart health. For instance, a diet high in saturated and trans fats, sugar, and sodium raises your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

On the other hand, lean meats, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are vital for maintaining a healthy heart. Fortunately, you have the ability to improve your cardiovascular health and avoid heart-damaging diseases by changing your diet. So if you want to take good care of your heart, learn the foods you should limit — and those you can fill up on.

The Worst Foods for Heart Health

To keep your heart healthy, certain food groups should either be restricted or eliminated altogether. These include:

  1. Processed Meats: Processed meats are packed with salt and preservatives. Consuming these foods will increase your intake of sodium, which should be limited to roughly 2,300 milligrams daily. Deli meats, including ham, turkey, and bologna, as well as hot dogs, top this list.
  2. Refined Grains and Carbohydrates: Foods made of processed grains and carbohydrates contain high amounts of sodium, sugar, and trans fat — all of which are harmful to the heart. You’re also not getting any nutritional value from these foods because the processing methods strip them of nutrients. A few examples of refined grains and processed carbohydrates are low-fiber cereals, white bread, and white rice.
  3. Bad Fats: Saturated and trans fats contribute to high cholesterol, which eventually leads to the buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries. As more plaque clogs the arteries, you could be at risk for atherosclerosis, a leading cause of heart attack and stroke. You can reduce the amount of saturated and trans fat in your diet by choosing lean meats and not cooking with butter or shortening. Conversely, foods consisting of healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (olive oil, avocados, nuts, and certain fish) should be staple of a heart-healthy diet.

The Best Foods for Heart Health

A heart-healthy diet is based on nutrient-rich foods that are low in calories and high in fiber. When planning your meals, stock up on these food groups:

  • Whole Grains: A good way to control your blood pressure is to eat whole grains. Instead of white bread, pick whole-grain or whole-wheat bread. High-fiber cereals, whole-grain pasta, oatmeal, and grains such as barley and brown rice are excellent choices to enhance your cardiovascular health.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: Like whole grains, fruits and vegetables provide the dietary fiber you need to control your blood pressure. Plus, they’re rich in vitamins and minerals. Rather than reaching for a bag of chips, snack on fruits and vegetables throughout the day.
  • Low-Fat Protein: Being on a heart-healthy diet doesn’t necessarily mean giving up meat. Lean meat and poultry are better choices than fatty meats and cured meats like bacon. Or, in place of meat, cook up a meal of salmon or mackerel. These types of fish are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lower blood fats. Legumes — beans, peas, and lentils — can be substituted for meat, as well. These foods are not only high in protein, but they’re also low in fat and contain no cholesterol.

Other Heart-Healthy Tips

Exercise is an important part of keeping your cardiovascular system healthy. A weekly workout of 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of more vigorous activity will keep your heart in good working condition. As a general rule, always try to burn off as many calories as you consume.

In addition, how much you eat is just as important as what you eat. In that regard, reduce your portion sizes so you’re not taking in too many calories. For example, a serving of meat, fish, or chicken should be no more than three ounces, or the size of a deck of cards.

Lastly, quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake will help keep your heart in top condition. If you need support to give up cigarettes, talk to your doctor about a smoking cessation program.

Want to learn more about meal planning and other methods to improve your cardiovascular fitness? The cardiac specialists at Premier Heart & Vein Care can help you build a diet and weight loss program suited to your needs. Contact us today to set up an appointment.


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