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What can you do to eat better and help your heart at the same time?
A lot can be said for exercise, but without a proper diet your heart faces an uphill battle. A poor diet can contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and the onset of diabetes.
When it comes to food, there are three primary heart-healthy enemies: saturated fat, cholesterol and excessive calories. And in some cases, salt can cause high blood pressure.
Tips for Eating Right
With the exception of the dangerously overweight, you shouldn't need a calculator to figure out a safe heart-healthy eating plan. Simply aim for a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, rice, beans, pasta, whole grains, low fat dairy, fish, skinless poultry and lean meats. Avoid foods high in saturated fat and keep the fats in your diet below 30 percent of your total calories. Here are some additional tips to help you eat better without sacrificing taste… or quantity.
- Cook with less fat. Instead of frying, broil or bake. Grilling, poaching and steaming keep the fat to a minimum. Stir frying and sautéing can be healthful if only small amounts of oil are used.
- Choose your oils carefully. Limit saturated oils like coconut oil and palm oil. Unsaturated vegetable oils, which can increase your HDL (good) cholesterol, are better for you although they are still high in calories. These include canola, olive, sunflower and safflower oils.
- Avoid fast foods, which tend to be especially high in saturated fats.
- Trim all visible fat from your meat and poultry.
- Try low-fat substitutes, especially for milk and cheeses.
- Be adventurous. Variety can tantalize the palate. Fix a vegetarian meal once a week.
- If you are served food high in fat, eat smaller portions of your "main dinner" and fill up on healthier side dishes. Starchy foods help you fill up faster.
- Reduce salt intake and use spices instead of fat (e.g., butter) for flavor.
- Drink lots of water, 6-8 cups daily.
- If you drink alcohol, cut down. Limit your intake to no more than two glasses a day for men, one glass for women.
- Involve your whole family in your heart-healthy eating habits.
Losing Weight Safely
Being overweight puts added strain on your heart. It is especially important to lose weight if you are 20 percent over your ideal weight. To drop extra pounds safely, follow these guidelines in addition to our "Eating Right" tips.
- Expect to lose no more than one or two pounds per week. This is a safe rate of weight loss. Over time, even losing just 10 or 20 pounds can be beneficial.
- Unless recommended by your doctor, avoid fad diets. They may be unsafe or produce only temporary results. "Yo-yo" dieting, where your weight goes down and then back up, is also unhealthy.
In order to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you take in. Calorie cutting and exercising (which burns calories) is the perfect combination for successful weight loss.