Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fight heart disease with heart healthy foods

By Valerie Manbeck
Clinical Dietitian, Rouge Valley Health System

Did you know that by changing the foods you eat, you can reduce your chances of heart disease?

By introducing more heart-healthy foods into your diet, you can fight your chances of having a heart attack.

Changing the foods you eat certainly isn’t easy. However, knowing which foods to add and which to eliminate can help kick-start your way towards a heart-healthy diet.

Here are some of the top five easy tips to help you on your way to a more heart-healthy diet:

1. Limit unhealthy fats.

Limiting saturated and trans fats is linked to a decrease in blood cholesterol levels, which lowers your risk of developing heart disease. A high blood-cholesterol level can lead to plaque build-up in your arteries, increasing your risk of a heart attack.

To reduce saturated fats, try cutting down on ‘fatty’ meats like sausages or bacon, and replacing them with leaner meats. Lean meats, like poultry and fish, and low-fat dairy products such as skim or one per cent milk, are good options.

To reduce trans fats, limit foods made with shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Instead, choose healthier fats like olive and canola oils. Nuts and seeds also contain healthier fats. But remember that all types of fat are high in calories, eating these foods in moderation is key here.

2. Choose foods with omega-3 fatty acids.

The impact that omega-3 fatty acids have on lowering your chances of heart disease are enormous. These foods can help decrease your overall risk of heart disease.

Eating ‘fatty’ fish such as, salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, trout, and herring at least twice a week is a great way to incorporate omega-3 fatty acids into your diet. Good sources include salmon, sardines, and herring.

3. Eat more fruits and vegetables.

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables does wonders for your waistline and helps to thwart heart disease. These two food groups are also low in calories, and full of fiber and anti-oxidants, which are keys to preventing and slowing damage to blood vessels.

Look for colourful fruits and vegetables. For example, mangos, carrots, spinach, broccoli and sweet potatoes are all good choices. Whenever possible, opt for fresh or even frozen fruits instead of fruit juices. Aim for two to three fruit servings a day, and at least four servings of vegetables each day. Try two at lunch and two at dinner, to get your vegetable servings in.

Adding fruits and vegetables to your diet isn’t as hard as you might think. Try keeping veggies like broccoli, carrots or cauliflower washed and cut up in your refrigerator. Choose recipes that feature fruits or vegetables as the main ingredient, such as fruit salads or stir-fry. And try not to cover vegetables with butter, dressings or creamy sauces, as many of these are high in fat.

4. Reduce salt.

Consuming a lot of salt can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. So, reducing your salt intake is a key part of a heart healthy diet.

The Heart & Stroke Foundation recommends that you eat less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium (one tablespoon or five mililetres of salt) a day. For those who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure (hypertension), sodium intake should be limited to 1,500 milligrams (two-thirds of a teaspoon) a day.

And while not reaching for the salt shaker is a good start, cutting back on processed foods is even more important. Much of the salt many of us eat comes from canned or processed foods, like canned soups and frozen dinners. Eating fresh foods and making your own soups and stews can help reduce your salt intake. And if you do prefer the convenience of canned foods and frozen meals, look for those with reduced sodium. Also, try other herbs and spices instead of table salt to flavour your food.

5. Go for soluble fibers.

Increasing your intake of soluble fiber is a great way to lower your blood cholesterol. Good sources of this fiber include oats, psyllium-enriched breakfast cereals (e.g. Kellogg’s All Bran Buds), ground flax seeds and citrus fruit. Adding ground flax seeds to your yogurt, apple sauce or hot cereal can be an easy way to add soluble fiber to your diet. Simply grind the seeds in a blender and stir in with a teaspoon.