Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is an important part of maintaining a healthy heart. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains can help you reduce your risk for heart disease.
Your diet can play an important part in the development or worsening of heart and vascular disease. It can contribute to important risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglycerides, obesity, and diabetes.
People who are overweight and obese have a greater chance of developing heart disease, because excess weight puts more of a strain on your heart. Obesity can cause a number of other health-related problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and stroke. It also contributes to metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of risk factors that increases your risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. One of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease and other related problems is to lose weight.
There are two important aspects in improving your diet: quantity and quality. Because food plays such an important role in weight management -- and excess weight plays such a crucial role in heart disease -- the two go together. Maintaining or losing weight is partly simple math. You need to burn more calories than you take in. You can do that by eating less, exercising more, or both. One way to make sure you don't take in too many calories is by controlling your portions and not eating too much at any one time.
Most people should try to eat a balanced diet that is low in calories, saturated and total fat, cholesterol, salt, red meat, and processed foods; and rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, calcium, and low-fat dairy products. Many people with high blood pressure follow a low-sodium (salt) diet (less than 2,400 mg of salt per day). People with high cholesterol often limit the calories they get from fats and oils to 25 to 35 percent of total calories. In addition, saturated fats (such as those that come from meats) are replaced with mono- or polyunsaturated fats (such as those found in olive and canola oils). In addition, fish oils, such as omega-3 fatty acids (a good source is salmon), have been shown to protect against heart disease.
For weight loss, there are many popular diet plans, but most research has found that for long-term weight loss you should aim to change your lifestyle by adopting new diet and exercise habits. Always check with your doctor before losing weight. Typically, you should reduce the number of calories you consume by 300 to 500 per day (by taking in fewer calories and by burning calories through exercise), which will help you lose one-half to 1 pound per week. To estimate how many calories you need to eliminate per day, you can multiply your weight by 15 if you already exercise regularly or by 13 if you don't. It's a good idea to reduce your fat intake to 30 percent or less of total calories. You can do this by eating lean meats, fish, and poultry. A portion of meat is a 3-ounce serving (or about the size of a deck of playing cards). Also remember to eat more vegetables and increase fiber intake because high-fiber foods help you feel full with fewer calories.
For general information about food and nutrition, visit mypyramid.gov. The site provides food guidance, including many options to help you make healthy food choices and to be active every day.
Nutrition Services offers outpatient nutrition counseling to help you manage heart disease and improve your diet. With this outpatient service, you will meet with a registered, licensed dietitian and discuss how to best manage your particular health concern with nutrition. Your doctor may refer you to this outpatient service or you may schedule a consultation by calling 214.820.7733.
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