Heart disease kills 610,000 people in the U.S. each year. While genetics, family history, and other factors can impact your risk levels, you can still fight back against heart disease. If you’re concerned about your risk for heart disease, now is the time to take control. Learn how changing your lifestyle and diet might lead to a longer and healthier life!
Lifestyle Changes Can Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease
Studies consistently show that making small changes to your lifestyle can reduce your risk of developing serious heart disease complications.
- Tobacco Cessation: After quitting for just one year, your risk of heart attack declines to half that of an active smoker’s risk.
- Physical Activity: Physicians typically recommend at least 30 minutes of daily exercise for healthy adults.
- Preventive Care: When you visit your primary care physician regularly, they can monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and prescribe medication that can help combat heart disease.
- Nutrition: Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet can improve your heart health and help you lose weight.
Unfortunately, old habits are hard to break, and many people struggle to make these changes. Thankfully, your healthcare providers and the team at John Muir Health want to help.
Learn the Basics of Heart-Healthy Nutrition
If you’re trying to transition to a heart-healthy diet, you might be worried your food choices will be bland and unappetizing. Thankfully, there are many delicious, affordable, and healthy options. While your primary care physician and a licensed dietician can help you build your heart-healthy diet plan, you should consider incorporating the following practices.
Cut Back on Sodium
Once you start reading nutrition labels, you might be shocked to discover the sodium content in prepared foods. According to the American Heart Association, most adults should eat no more than 1,500 mg of sodium daily. Unfortunately, the average adult consumes more than 3,400 mg of sodium every day. A single slice of frozen pizza might contain up to 730 mg of sodium.
Unfortunately, you can’t assume that something labeled as “low-fat” is heart healthy. Sometimes, food manufacturers add salt and sugar to low-fat prepared food to improve their taste. A cup of low-fat cottage cheese can contain 30% or more of your daily recommended amount! Before you purchase a product, study its nutritional label and ingredients.
Eat Nutrient-Rich Foods
Rather than eating empty calories, choose foods that have a strong nutrient value. Typically, nutrient-rich foods combine calories with high levels of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They also tend to have lower fat and sodium levels.
Nutrient-rich foods include:
- Minimally processed fruits and vegetables — especially sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, garlic, and berries
- Unsalted nuts and seeds
- Beans and legumes
- Whole grains
- Low-fat milk and Greek yogurt
- Lean proteins, such as wild-caught salmon, tuna, and skinless poultry
You should still pay attention to nutritional labels when selecting nutrient-rich foods. For example, low-fat deli meats can still be high in sodium and filled with preservatives. Similarly, while spinach is nutritionally-rich, covering it with cheese or a creamy sauce isn’t the healthiest choice.
Control Your Portion Size
Americans struggle with portion control. Rather than feeling compelled to clean your plate, you should think carefully about your choices. Many of us eat much more than the recommended amount. When was the last time you ate a single serving of pasta (1/2 cup, about the size of a hockey puck) or meat (3 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards)? Are you following the guidelines and filing half your plate with fruits and vegetables?
Understand the Differences Between Healthy and Unhealthy Fats
We need some fat in our diet. It helps us absorb other vitamins and minerals and is necessary for healthy cells. While you should avoid saturated and trans fats, healthier fats (in moderation) can add flavor and complexity to your foods. Try to use olive oil, canola oil, avocados, and nuts instead of butter, lard, bacon, and hydrogenated oils. And instead of deep frying, opt for a sauté or stir-fry.
Learn More About Heart Health at John Muir Health
John Muir Health offers a wide variety of heart health classes on its Walnut Creek and Concord campuses. Many of these classes focus on how lifestyle changes and nutrition can improve your heart health and quality of life.
The Healthy Heart Nutrition Class is free to the public and educates participants about fats, cholesterol, nutrition guidelines, and understanding food labels and ingredients. To register for the class, please complete this simple online registration form.
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (2017, October). Get the facts: Sodium and the dietary guidelines. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/salt/pdfs/sodium_dietary_guidelines.pdf
John, K.A. (2016, August). Do lower calorie or lower fat foods have more sodium than their regular counterparts? Nutrients. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997424/