Heart Health: Importance of a heart-healthy diet

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is responsible for one out of every four deaths in the United States, a total of 610,000 people every year. Heart disease can be devastating, but there are ways for you to reduce your risk, such as through a heart healthy diet and exercise plan.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and high fat intake are common factors that lead to heart disease. High sodium intake increases the fluid you hold in your body, forcing your heart to pump harder, which increases your blood pressure. Eating a lot of foods high in unhealthy fat and cholesterol causes plaque to build up in your blood vessels. Over time, your blood vessels become blocked and your heart has to pump harder to push through the blockage. Dietary choices that help your heart include:

  • Fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants – the vitamins, minerals, and fiber found in fruits and vegetables help your heart function properly.
  • Whole grains – raw, unrefined grains are rich in fiber that helps clean out your body and are a source of healthy protein.
  • Limit sodium – keep your sodium intake between 1500mg – 2300mg every day. That’s a teaspoon or less!
  • Low fat – choose 2 percent fat content or less, and look for heart healthy oils such as olive, canola or nut oils. Cut out trans fats entirely.
  • Lean meat – Stick to lean cuts of meat, poultry and fish for your meat. Fish can also be a great source of Omega 3, a healthy fat.
  • Eat more nuts – nuts and legumes like almonds, pecans, cashews and walnuts are rich in healthy fats and they make a great snack!
  • Limit fried food and added sugar - sweet beverages can be a source of empty calories. Instead, choose green or black tea.

Learning to read food labels can help you make the right choices in the grocery store. Pay attention to serving size and the list of ingredients to see which food is best for you. For items that don’t have a label, like fruit, familiarize yourself with the US Food and Drug Administration’s website, fda.gov, where they have created infographics with nutritional information. Fortunately, the exceptional team of registered dietitians at Cone Health are dedicated to educating individuals and families about making the right choices and reading food labels to help keep their hearts healthy.

Spokesperson Background:

Margaret “Maggie” May is a certified diabetes educator, and registered dietitian and nurse at Cone Health. She earned a Master of Science in nursing in 1982 and a Master of Science in nutrition in 1998, both from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.