Despite advances in medicine over the past two decades, heart disease remains the leading cause of death. Heart disease claims the lives of 655,000 people in the United States each year, and it’s largely preventable.
Premier cardiovascular disease specialist Muthu Velusamy, MD, and the team at Cardiovascular Institute of America want you to be aware of the connection between heart disease and lifestyle habits such as diet. By taking steps to change your lifestyle, you can protect yourself against heart disease and improve your overall health.
Your diet is a good place to start. Here’s what you should know about how your diet influences your heart health.
How do the foods you eat affect your heart?
Your body relies on a steady supply of high-quality nutrients in the right amounts from your diet to fuel a wide variety of physiological processes. Your heart and blood vessels work together to deliver oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other tissues.
If you get too much of certain types of fat, your blood vessels harden and narrow. If you get too little antioxidant-rich foods, your arteries stiffen. Too few foods with vitamin B and iron, and your body struggles to make enough red blood cells. Not enough of the minerals you need, and the strength and timing of your heartbeat is impacted. You get the picture.
Finding the balance
The key factor in understanding diet and health is balance. While how much saturated fat you eat is a major risk factor for heart disease, saturated fat isn’t the only culprit in your diet that can drive you toward early death from heart disease.
It’s true that consuming too much saturated fat hikes up LDL (bad cholesterol) to artery-clogging levels. But you need to pay attention to added sugar and sodium, too.
Too much added sugar and excess sodium contribute to blood vessel inflammation, a major factor in the development of heart disease. Excess salt is also detrimental to blood pressure, with hypertension being a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
Striking the right balance means eating plenty of heart-protective foods like green leafy vegetables, fruits, and small amounts of heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats. At the same time, it’s best to limit foods that negatively impact your heart and blood vessels, like foods high in sodium, added sugar, and saturated fats.
What foods are best for your heart?
Specific dietary needs are based on your health status, medical history, age, and food preferences. Generally, however, our Cardiovascular Institute of America team recommends a diet that includes a variety of minimally processed foods from specific food groups to meet your daily caloric needs. Choose foods such as:
- Whole grains
- Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Lean meats such as fish and poultry
- Low-fat dairy
Significantly restricting or eliminating added sugars, refined carbohydrates, highly processed snacks, and red and processed meats in your diet helps keep your heart healthy.
The American Heart Association also recommends consuming no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day for people with average risk and further reduced to a maximum of 1,500 mg daily if you have high blood pressure, obesity, or other risk factors.
You may not realize that many foods contain sodium in their natural state. For example, a large egg still in the shell contains about 62 mg of sodium. Read food labels carefully so you’re aware of the amounts of sodium, fat, and sugars in what you eat.
If following a diet plan is helpful for you to be mindful of your heart health, the DASH diet — developed to treat and prevent high blood pressure — is a beneficial program that can reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and stroke.
You have the power to prevent heart disease. It’s never too late to change your habits and start protecting your heart health. For a comprehensive evaluation and personalized heart-healthy recommendations, schedule a visit at Cardiovascular Institute of America today. We have offices in Lutz, and Tampa, Florida.