Secrets to Eating Heart-Healthy (AND Deliciously!)

Feb 11, 2020

Think that eating heart-healthy can’t possibly be delicious? Think again. These days, meals that fuel our body, protect against disease, please the palate, and make us feel great are all around us. The key is knowing what to look for. 

First, the basics. At its core, healthy eating is about getting the good stuff from each food group—fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy. Choose your favorite, healthy options within each. Eating this way helps you get all your “macros,” plus the vitamins and minerals your body craves. 

Next, the nuances. For each goal you are working on, and each condition you are managing or preventing, go a little deeper. These are five core tenets for heart health:

  1. Type of fat matters more than the amount. We’ve come a long way from recommending a low-fat diet. Maximize healthy unsaturated fats (found naturally in nuts, seeds, fish, oils, and some produce—like avocados) and go easy on saturated fats (found in higher-fat milk, cheese, coconut and palm oils, butter, packaged foods, and the visible fat you see on meats).
  2. Being at a healthy weight goes a long way. This is a life-long effort, but worth it. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of developing diabetes and hypertension—both which contribute to heart disease. The key is identifying the eating and activity behaviors that work for your lifestyle and that you can do consistently and long-term.
  3. Salt influences blood pressure, but it doesn’t work alone. Yes, salt intake can contribute to high blood pressure, as can alcohol consumption. Other factors are protective, like physical activity. Fun fact: sodium and potassium work as a team in the body. The more potassium you eat, the more your body can control its blood pressure—yet another reason to get those fruits and veggies in!
  4. Fiber is your ally. Fiber typically comes packaged with other key nutrients in foods. (Think: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans.) It also plays a role in managing blood sugar, helping you feel full, and keeping healthy gut bacteria well-fed.  
  5. People who read the label are in the know. While grocery shopping, look for foods that are higher in protein and fiber, and have a mix of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Keep an eye out for saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars (new to the food label!). Use the “5-20 Rule”—5 percent is considered “low” and 20 percent “high.” A value of 10 percent indicates that the food is a “good source” of that nutrient. Don’t want to be bogged down in the numbers? You can just compare two labels and choose the one that looks better! 

Check out these heart-friendly recipes and try for yourself! 

Meal: Asparagus, Mandarin Orange, Chicken, Rice dish

Dessert: Apple Pistachio Crisp

Heart-Healthy Recipe Report Card

Multiple food groups

High in fiber

Low in salt/sodium

Low in saturated fat

Low in added sugars

 

Now that you know how to think like a dietitian and eat heart-healthy, tell us what you think and share your own heart-healthy recipes!  

(Photo and recipes courtesy of Produce for Better Health Foundation)

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