A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease and achieving a longer life. When you eat a healthy diet (foods low in saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars, and foods high in whole grain fiber, lean protein, and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables) you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy for life. However, an alarmingly high number of us are not making healthy food choices. Recent studies show that more than 90% of us fail to consistently eat a heart-healthy diet. Our poor eating habits mean more of us have risk factors for heart and vascular disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.
How does better eating affect my health?
Let's face it, you can't build a healthy body on a diet of hamburgers and french fries. If you are frequently skipping out on veggies, fruit, low-fat dairy, fiber-rich whole grains, and lean meats including fish, your body is missing the basic building blocks for a healthy life. Healthy foods are the fuel our bodies use to make new cells and create the energy we need to thrive and fight diseases.
What can I do to eat better?
• Stock your kitchen with healthy food
Healthy eating requires planning, but a little bit of thought goes a long way toward a better life. Buy less junk and more produce. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat a wide variety of nutritious foods daily from each of the basic food groups. To get the nutrients you need, choose foods like vegetables, fruits, fiber-rich whole-grain breads and cereals and fat-free or low-fat dairy products most often.
• Track what you eat
For a few days, keep a journal or use an online food tracker. This habit helps you see where you need to improve your choices.
• Eat vegetables and fruits
They are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, and they're low in calories. Eating a variety of deeply colored fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight and your blood pressure.
• Eat unrefined fiber-rich whole-grain foods
A diet rich in fiber can help promote weight loss because fiber keeps you feeling fuller longer so you eat less. It can also help lower your blood cholesterol.
• Eat fish at least twice a week
Recent research shows that eating 2 3.5 oz servings of oily fish per week containing omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, trout, and herring) may help lower your risk of death from coronary artery disease. For additional protein, choose skinless lean meats and poultry and prepare them without adding saturated and trans fat. Select fat-free, 1 percent fat, and low-fat dairy products.
• Cut back on saturated and trans fats, cholesterol and added sugars
Cut down on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet. Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. Aim to eat less than 1500 milligrams of sodium per day. Limiting sugary drinks is a great way to reduce added sugars in your diet.
• Savor new flavors
It may take a bit of adjustment to learn to enjoy a heart-healthy diet, but those who make the switch can find plenty of nutritious choices that are every bit as tasty. Many switchers will tell you that greasy fast-food choices no longer seem appealing.