We often read about how eating certain foods are good for our heart. Have you ever really thought about the role that food plays in maintaining a healthy heart? The heart is a large pump that is responsible for moving oxygen, nutrients and blood through the body, leaving oxygen for tissues and picking up carbon dioxide for disposal. We don’t have to think about this process much and often take it for granted.
The foods we eat have an impact on the blood vessels that move blood within the body. Over time, our diet, familial factors, lifestyle, stress and exercise habits impact the work that our heart has to do.
Saturated and trans fats are associated with unhealthy fats because they have an adverse effect on our blood vessels and can build up as plaque causing damage and narrowing the space where blood flows. As these passages clog, blood has to be forced through at higher pressures, setting the stage for heart attack or stroke.
By making smart food choices, you can decrease your risk for heart disease. Realize that small changes can make a difference over time.
Heart-healthy eating behaviors include:
1. Reduce saturated fat and cholesterol by eating less meat, removing excess fat or draining fat from cooked meat, and reducing the amount of packaged and processed foods (Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King) in your diet.
2. Eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables because they contain fiber, antioxidants which reduce inflammation in blood vessels, unsaturated fats (plant oils) versus saturated fat (solid), polyphenols associated with an increase in HDL cholesterol and generally have zero or low amounts of fat.
3. Include fish in your diet to increase omega-3 fatty acid content. These are unsaturated fatty acids that reduce inflammation throughout the body. Other non-fish foods that contain some omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, canola oil and soybeans.
4. Reduce salty and packaged foods as a matter of good eating habits. A healthy heart and body can generally regulate salt. Due to aging or hereditary factors, we may see a rise in blood pressure, which damages blood vessels. Reducing salty foods helps to regulate those pressures by reducing the amount of water carried in the blood.
5. Be mindful of how much caffeine you are consuming, because the more you have, the harder the heart has to work.
6. Don’t focus on foods as “good” or “bad,” instead work towards a regular pattern of healthy eating which includes whole, unprocessed food. If food comes in a package or in a fast food wrapper, chances are that it is higher in fat, salt and calories and lower in fiber, antioxidants and nutrients.
Create an eating pattern that you know is healthy, and then sit down and enjoy your food with family and friends. Managing stress and maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise reduces the damage to blood vessels and keeps the heart beating strong. The importance of regular medical checkups with early detection and treatment can set the stage for a lifetime of better heart health.