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Eating for a Healthy Heart

"Tips on Preparing Meals for Healthy Heart "
By: Gwen Y. Reyes-Amurao, M.D.Eating for a Healthy Heart

George was 45 when he had a heart attack. Married with three wonderful kids, participating in the triathlons, being in the prime of his life, he was at his fittest, or so he thought. Although he had an exercise regimen fit for an athlete, his diet consisted mostly of burgers and steaks and food he enjoyed eating because he claimed he was going to burn them anyway.

Sadly, people today give very little credit to the food that they eat and never realize that their diet can have a tremendous effect on different organs of their body, especially the heart. In fact, the US FDA states that making healthy food choices is one important thing that you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease – which is currently, the leading cause of death in both men and women all over the world.

According to nutrition expert Barbara Schneeman of the US Food and Drug Administration, the following tips on preparing meals can jumpstart a healthy diet and can lead to a healthy heart:

  • Balance calories to manage body weight
  • Eat at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily, including a variety of dark-green, red and orange vegetables
  • Choose to eat seafood instead of meat or poultry
  • Eat whole grains daily
  • Use fat-free or low-fat versions of dairy products

Similarly, an organization like Mayo Clinic sees the value of one’s diet and helps discuss some important considerations when one wants to have a healthy functioning cardiovascular system by simply having a healthy diet.

Don’t eat with your eyes

Buffet setups often lead us eating more than we should. How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Although some people may find it unusual, using a smaller plate or bowl can actually help control your servings. Taking in bigger portions of fruits and vegetables while decreasing overall caloric intake, will not only benefit your heart but your weight as well. 

Initially, measuring the food you eat may seem daunting. But once you get the hang of how big or small a serving is for certain types of food, merely by eyeballing you will be able to estimate its’ caloric equivalence. If you don’t want to sweat on analysis, just download the latest applications on your smart phone and it will do the calorie counting and monitoring for you. 

Load up on Fiber

Fruits and vegetables are always at the top of the list when it comes to eating healthy for your heart, and all the other organs in your body since it contains a lot of fiber. According to a research published in “Circulation Journal”, people who have diets rich in fruits and vegetables have a 35% much lower risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke and are less likely to develop congestive heart failure.

Oranges have a substance known as pectin that helps block absorption of cholesterol. The potassium found in these round oranges, help counter the effects of sodium-rich food thereby controlling blood pressure. The dark green leafy vegetable “kale”, is very rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, folate, potassium and vitamin E, all of which are important substances that help prevent plaque formation in the arteries. Recent studies identified a compound found in kale that activates a protein, preventing plaque from adhering to arteries found all over the body.

Keeping a bowl of fruits and vegetables ready to eat in the fridge that you can easily pull out may come in handy especially when one is hungry.

Know your fats

Not all fat is bad. To maintain certain metabolic and hormonal functions, the body needs certain amounts of fat, whether produced by the body or taken from one’s diet. Fats that need to be avoided are saturated fats and the trans fats.  Omega fatty acids are the good fat that aids a healthier cardiovascular system.

Reading food labels can help identify how much bad fat is found in your food.  In general, anything that contains butter, margarine or shortening are rich in trans fats. Always choose monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats over trans fats and saturated fats. Olive oil, canola oil, even flaxseed oil contain the healthier types of fat and can help lower cholesterol levels. Limiting saturated and trans fats in your diet cannot only help reduce blood cholesterol levels but can lower your risk of coronary artery disease as well.

Take it easy on the salt

We all know how that salt or sodium leads to elevated blood pressure and increases your risk for cardiovascular disease. According to the American Heart Association, healthy adults should have no more than 2,300 mg (or a teaspoon) of sodium a day while those who have an underlying medical condition such as hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease should have no more than 1,500 mg a day.   When looking to buy prepared meals, choose the low-salt or reduced salt variants in the market.   Instead of adding a little more salt, choose to incorporate your local herbs and spices for added taste and variety.

Choose your proteins well

Fish, poultry and lean meat are good sources of protein that are not very rich in fat. Fish, in particular, contains fatty acids that can help lower bad cholesterol and even triglycerides. Beans, peas, and lentils are also good sources of protein which can be consumed without increasing your risk of having a heart attack.

Don’t deprive yourself

Like I’ve always advised my patients, anything consumed in moderation will not be harmful to the body. Indulge every once in a while.  In the end, what’s important is that you choose to eat healthy most of the time. When you deprive yourself, chances are, you end up bingeing on more occasions than one.

A study published by the Harvard School of Public Health stated that 70% of heart diseases can be averted with the right diet and lifestyle regimen.  According to most dieticians, planning your meals ahead will help you eat right, stay healthy and live longer.  After all, don’t we all want to live longer?  So, let’s eat for a healthy heart.
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