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Eating habits play a pivotal role in promoting a healthy heart. But what if you have a family history of heart disease? Does healthy eating still matter? Indeed, for most people with such a family history, lifestyle makes a major difference in whether an inherited tendency actually leads to heart disease or not.
Here are four steps you can take to eat to protect your heart!
1. Cut sodium.
The American Heart Association and 10 other major health groups recommend creating heart-healthy eating habits. Just cutting 1,000 milligrams of sodium per day lowers heart risk. You can achieve it by adopting a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) style diet. This means fruits, boosting vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fish poultry, and nuts, as well as reducing saturated fat, red meat, sweets, and sugar-sweetened beverages. Look beyond the saltshaker, since most sodium comes from processed foods.
- Make your own soup with no-salt-added tomatoes, or select reduced-sodium soup or low-sodium bouillon and add your own additional flavors.
- Use raw veggies like pepper strips, celery, and cauliflower -for dipping, instead of chips or crackers.
- Season unflavored rice and grains with herbs and spices, skipping sodium-laden seasoning packets included in products.
2. Limit added sugar.
Snacks and sugar-sweetened drinks are often identified as “empty calories” that should be limited to maintain a healthy weight. Evidence suggests that high consumption of added sugars can raise blood pressure and blood triglycerides, and is linked with an increased risk of stroke and heart disease.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 recommend 200 calories or 50 grams of sugar per day for the average person. The AHA recommends even lower limits of no more than 100 calories (25 grams) per day for women and 150 calories (36 grams) for men.
- Since nearly half the added sugars in an average American diet come from beverages, reducing sugar-sweetened soft drinks is the top strategy.
- Skip sweets and opt for nutrient-rich snacks like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
3. Maintain a healthy weight.
Among people with overweight or obese, 20 percent to over 50 percent have Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). Studies show that liver fat increases insulin resistance and unhealthy blood sugars, low-grade inflammation, and blood triglycerides. Therefore try to maintain a healthy weight by cutting just 200 to 400 calories a day and adding a short walk to your regular activity.
- Drink more water, and swap sparkling water, unsweetened tea, or coffee for sugar-sweetened drinks.
- Serve up portions about three-quarters of the usual size for most foods other than vegetables. Wait and go back for more only if you’re truly hungry.
- Take time for a brief walk or other activity, and you’ll burn calories, and decrease liver fat and insulin resistance.
4. Choose quality carbs and fats.
LDL (bad cholesterol) is the primary risk factor when looking at blood lipids. But studies show that at equal LDL levels, blood triglycerides also identify heart risk. To control triglycerides, look beyond limiting LDL-raising saturated and trans fats, and aim for other factors in diet quality, too.
- Limit sweets and refined grains, favoring foods with more dietary fiber that raise blood sugar more gradually.
- Mediterranean-style eating patterns, which include moderate amounts of fat from healthy oils, nuts, and seafood, help reduce elevated triglycerides.
- Limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day for women (one serving of wine is five ounces) or two for men, reducing further if triglycerides remain high.