Did You Know…? A healthy heart and healthy eating go hand in hand

DidYouKnow6It’s never too late to begin eating a heart-healthy diet and reduce your risk for life-threatening diseases later in life. A heart-healthy diet can reduce your risk of stroke and heart disease by as much as 80 percent.

Exercising and quitting smoking are important factors in heart health, but what goes on your fork is a key piece of the equation.

And while it may seem there is an overwhelming amount of information about what makes a healthful diet, there are a few simple standards such as to limit salt,  keep bad fats to a minimum, and reduce cholesterol by eating more vegetables, fruits and grains.

Dietitian Laurie Ledford said most adults should aim to restrict salt intake to 1500 mg a day on average, with the Institute of Medicine recommending an upper limit of 2300 mg a day. That upper limit is essentially the equivalent of one teaspoon of salt.

The majority of Americans consume at least twice, and even triple, that amount, she said, and that’s because it’s not just about what comes out of the salt shaker. The bigger culprits are processed food and fast food.

Your heart also will appreciate it if you limit the saturated fats, since those are strongly correlated with bad heart events and raise “bad” cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are the ones that harden at room temperature and mostly come from animal products – think butter, chicken skin, and fat on steak.

Steer clear, too, of trans fats, which do all the items above, but also lower good cholesterol. There’s less of it around, with a push to eliminate it from cookies, snacks, and other processed foods, but it still lurks in fast food.

On the other hand, nuts and avocadoes are full of what’s considered “good” fat, which may be high in fat and calories, but which aren’t as dangerous to your heart and can be taken in moderation.

Ledford said eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring or drab and you don’t have to avoid your favorite foods.

Take cheese, for example. It is full of saturated fat and sodium. But you shouldn’t give it up if it means you’ll lose a little joy in life. Instead, pick a strong-flavored cheese, such as goat cheese, that will allow smaller portions. It’s all about moderation, she said.

Another piece of advice? Don’t try to overhaul your diet at once.

Pick one area and start there. Once you get a handle on salt, for example, then it might be time to start reducing fat. Even that can come in stages. If you drink whole milk, for example, try 2 percent. Then blend 2 percent with 1 percent. Maybe you can get to 1 percent or even skim at some point.

Gradually, too, build up to the recommended 4 to 5 servings of vegetables and 4 to 5 servings of fruits a day.

“Choose one that will be the easiest to do for you, and then move on the next. None of us can change 100 percent of what we do overnight and then expect to stick with it. It’s all about developing better habits.”

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