Heart Health & Nutritious Snacking

- February 12, 2020

heart healthy mealFebruary is American Heart Month and National Snack Month. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. However, following a heart-healthy diet can help to prevent heart disease and improve heart health. Following the recommendations below may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Let’s take care of our hearts by following a heart-healthy diet and snacking on heart-healthy food!

What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is the term for a variety of conditions that affect the heart. High blood pressure, cholesterol, and smoking are the main risk factors for developing heart disease. Half of Americans have at least one of these main risk factors.

How Can I Snack for Heart Health?

When thinking of a snack, the snack food isle may come to mind. However, a snack can be nutritious and a great way to fuel your body when you’re feeling hungry. Follow the snack tips listed below for a few nutritious ideas. 

What is a Heart Healthy diet?

Fruit and Vegetables

Fill half of your plate with fruit and vegetables. They are naturally low in fat and calories, and high in fiber; therefore, they will fill you up for fewer calories. Plant-based foods contain nutrients that are protective against heart disease and are linked to reduced blood pressure, decreased “bad” cholesterol, and decreased inflammation. Add color, flavor, crunch, fiber, vitamins, and minerals with fruit and veggies!

  • Snack Tip: Make fruit easy to grab. Keep whole fruit out on the counter where you can see it, or chopped fruit in the refrigerator for a quick and easy snack.
  • Try something new. Include a wide variety of fruit and vegetables in your diet. The variety is just as important as the quantity.
Whole Grains

A whole grain doesn’t undergo a refining process and won’t be stripped of nutrients. Whole grains contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Make half of the grains you eat (bread, pasta, and rice) whole grains because they may lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and prevent blood sugar spikes– all protective against heart disease.

  • Snack Tip: Popcorn is a low calorie and a whole grain snack. It also contains fiber!
Fiber

Fiber is only found in plant foods. It can help you maintain steady blood sugars and lower cholesterol. Other benefits include feeling full and satisfied for longer. You can get enough fiber in your diet by consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Be sure to drink enough fluids when adding fiber-rich foods to your diet to prevent constipation.

  • Snack Tips: Snack on fruits and veggies. Pears, avocados, apples, and raspberries are some examples of high fiber fruits!
  • Top your Yogurt and Oatmeal: Add nuts, or fruit on top.
Omega 3s

Important fats found in fish, canola oil, walnuts, eggs, chia and flaxseeds. Omega 3-fatty acids are unsaturated fats that may reduce inflammation in the body. These fatty acids may help to decrease triglycerides in the blood, reduce blood clotting, and lower blood pressure. Aim to eat at least two palm of your hand-sized servings of seafood each week, as this may reduce the risk of heart disease.

  • Snack Tips: Canned tuna fish (try making it with olive oil and lemon, or Greek yogurt.)
  • Hard-boiled eggs: Keep in the fridge for an easy to grab snack.

What Should I Limit in my Diet?

Alcohol

If you consume alcohol, do so in moderation. Each day, limit your intake to one drink if you’re a female, and two drinks if you’re a male.

Saturated Fat

Saturated fats are found in animal products such as fatty meat, chicken skin, bacon, sausage, whole milk, cream, and butter. Its recommended to limit saturated fats because they raise cholesterol and can clog arteries. Choose foods with less than 3 grams of saturated fat per serving (found on the food label). Replacing saturated fat with healthier options can lower cholesterol and improve blood lipids. Choose low-fat milk, when possible use olive oil instead of butter, try Greek yogurt instead of mayo, and limit fried foods.

Sodium (Salt)

Consuming too much sodium can increase blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Even if a food does not taste salty it may be high in sodium. Examples of high sodium food include salty snacks, deli meats, canned items such as soup and vegetables, sauces, and seasonings. Low Sodium Seasoning Tips: Use “Salt-Free” seasonings, fresh garlic, pepper, lemon or lime juice, or use vinegar!

 

References:

  1. 8 steps to a heart-healthy diet. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-healthy-diet/art-20047702. Published January 9, 2019. Accessed February 5, 2020.
  2. The American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations. www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/aha-diet-and-lifestyle-recommendations. Accessed February 5, 2020.
  3. Eliassen, Cho, X L, WY C, Willett. Fiber. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/. Published October 28, 2019. Accessed February 5, 2020.
  4. Whole Grains. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/whole-grains/. Published November 4, 2019. Accessed February 5, 2020.
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