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Cardiovascular Health

Eating Healthful Foods and Staying Active Makes for a Healthy Heart

Photo: Courtesy of Alice Pasqual

Angel Planells, M.S., RDN, CD, FAND

National Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Healthful eating and regular physical activity can help you decrease your risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity, which are some of the risk factors for developing heart disease. You can take a step in the right direction by balancing your plate with nutritious foods and incorporating foods with dietary fiber, including fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and more.  

When it comes to a heart healthy eating pattern, we have an opportunity to make better nutrition choices by modifying our food intake when planning our meals. Here are some tips for a more healthful plate: 

  • Plan your meals to include foods from each of the five food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and protein. 
  • Focus on dietary fiber by making half of your plate fruits and vegetables, and choose whole-grain foods, such as brown rice or whole grain bread. Increase your intake of fiber gradually and with adequate fluids to help your body adjust.
  • Limit sources of saturated fat by choosing leaner cuts of meat, skinless poultry, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. 
  • Check the nutrition facts label and avoid foods with trans fat.
  • Replace fried foods with grilled or baked items.
  • Include a variety of seafood, especially fish that are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon. 
  • Include plant-based sources of protein, such as beans, peas, nuts, and seeds.
  • Use unsaturated fats, such as vegetable oils, in place of solid fats, such as butter.
  • Limit sodium and sources of added sugars. 

Get moving

The “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans” recommends adults get 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, which can include brisk walking, biking, and dancing, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, such as running, kickboxing and step aerobics. Choose activities that you personally enjoy so you can have fun meeting your activity goals. Being physically active throughout the day can help you manage your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels — all things that are important for heart health.  

For individuals who are overweight or obese, gradually losing 3-5 percent of their body weight can benefit your heart in the long run. 

Do not forget to incorporate stress-relief into your health routine. Poorly managed stress can wreak havoc on your health, even if you maintain a healthful eating pattern and participate in regular physical activity. Be sure to get enough sleep, practice relaxation techniques, and nurture your relationships with your family and friends. Decreasing stress can benefit your overall health. 

Visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ online Find an Expert service to find a registered dietitian nutritionist who can help you create a nutrition and physical activity plan that fits your lifestyle. 

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