heart health / diet

Strategies to Improve Your Heart Health

By Addie Roberts

February 16th, 2021

Last updated: February 16th, 2021

Heart health is a very important and a very popular health topic among most adults. And there is a very good reason for this! Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in America, so focusing on heart health is more important now than ever. The unfortunate part about fifty percent of Americans getting heart disease is that it can be prevented with dietary and lifestyle changes. These changes may not be easy to make, but finding realistic ways to increase heart health through diet and lifestyle changes can create a healthier life long term and prevent heart complications like high cholesterol, heart attack, and stroke.

What is Heart Health?

The term “heart health” generally refers to cholesterol and triglyceride levels being within normal limits and establishing healthy eating patterns to sustain this optimum blood work long term alongside physical fitness for cardiac health as well. Food is one of the main contributing factors to heart health, but establishing a fitness routine is very important as well. The American Heart Association recommends that adults are active for 150 minutes per week with moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. Moderate aerobic exercise can include many different types of exercise such as walking, leisure biking, swimming, doubles tennis, gardening, and dancing. Finding something that you enjoy doing is the key to continuing this health pattern long term. When exercise feels sustainable and enjoyable you are much more likely to keep the habit going!

How Your Diet can Improve Your Heart Health

As far as how to increase heart health in terms of our food, the emphasis is on healthy fats and fiber. Saturated fats and trans fats are the main fat sources to avoid because these contribute to higher LDL cholesterol levels, which is the type of cholesterol that leads to plaque formation and health complications. We want to limit or avoid saturated and trans fats whenever possible in our food routine. The main foods that are high in saturated and trans fats include high fat meats like bacon, sausage, and hot dogs; fried foods; dairy products like butter, cheese, milk, and high fat yogurt; and poultry skin. When possible, these foods should be swapped for healthier foods without or with less saturated fat to help decrease the risk of increasing cholesterol levels overall. Making healthy swaps can look many different ways based on your desired food preferences, but some examples include swapping high fat cheeses for 0% fat or skim cheese, breakfast meats on breakfast tacos can be swapped for refried beans or additional eggs, and butter can be replaced with a healthier fat like olive oil when cooking. Every little change in terms of lowering saturated fat intake can make a difference!

Heart Healthy Alternatives

In addition to avoiding unhealthy fats, including more heart healthy fats can also be beneficial. Heart healthy fats are “unsaturated fats” like those found in nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, olive oil, and avocado oil. These healthier fats increase HDL, the beneficial cholesterol, which helps remove excess LDL from your bloodstream and prevents further damage. Swapping less healthy fats with these options and increasing the consumption of these healthy fats overall can help you create a more favorable cholesterol profile. Try adding avocado on top of tortilla soup or toast, add a handful of walnuts to your afternoon snack, or replace butter on toast with almond butter for added flavor and healthy fat in your day.

The Importance of Fiber in a Healthy Diet

Fiber in our food is an additional factor to consider with cholesterol levels and overall heart health. Including more soluble fiber in each of our meals can help reduce the absorption of some fat content within that meal. Soluble fiber is found in several foods like beans, apples, oatmeal, strawberries, potatoes, and many more. Fiber can provide health in many ways, including regulating our bowel movements, controlling blood sugar, and preventing the risk for certain cancers as well in addition to also helping lower overall cholesterol by limiting absorption. If you are looking for additional ways to support your heart health this year, focus on adding these higher soluble fiber foods to meals to decrease fat absorption while also lowering the intake of the less favorable fats in order to achieve a heart healthy diet!

By Addie Roberts