Most of us would agree on the importance of a healthy heart. Our food and lifestyle choices over our lifetime can make a difference in keeping our hearts strong and healthy. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, you can decrease your risk of heart disease by filling your plate with the right foods. Those include fiber-rich whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils as well as plant-based fats, such as avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil.
How do you do that on a daily basis?
--Focus on eating more plant-based foods, such as vegetables and legumes, and fewer meats high in saturated fat. Not only are fruits and vegetables low in calories and good sources of dietary fiber and antioxidants, but they can also help keep blood pressure in check. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. What makes fruits and veggies so good? They provide potassium, a mineral that has been shown to lower blood pressure in clinical studies. Include at least two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables daily to help increase your potassium intake. Foods higher in potassium include tomatoes, spinach, potatoes, bananas and squash.
--The amount and type of fat you eat makes a difference. Research has found that saturated fat may have negative effects on heart health. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting the amount of saturated fat you consume. Foods such as bacon, red meat, butter and ice cream contain saturated fat. Replacing sources of saturated fats with unsaturated fats has been shown to be beneficial for overall cardiovascular health. Foods including olive oil, canola oil, avocados, walnuts and almonds contain unsaturated fat. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids, also a type of unsaturated fat, have been found to be helpful in preventing sudden death from heart attacks. Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and herring, contain two types of omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA. Another type of omega-3 fat, ALA, may also provide cardiac benefits. Flaxseeds and walnuts contain ALA. Include two tablespoons of ground flaxseed or one ounce (about a small handful) of walnuts on a regular basis to increase your ALA intake.
--Aim for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity throughout the week and ideally on most days of the week. Simple activities make a difference. This includes walking, jogging, biking and dancing. Participate in strength training, such as weightlifting, at least two times per week. Remember to incorporate balance and flexibility exercises, too.
--Even if you eat right and exercise regularly, poorly managed stress can wreak havoc on your health. Getting enough sleep, practicing relaxation techniques and nurturing relationships are healthy habits that can help protect you from the harmful effects of stress.
The bottom line is we can keep our hearts healthy by choosing a lifestyle that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, exercise and less stress.
Q and A
Q: Do prunes have health benefits?
A: Besides helping to prevent constipation, prunes may help protect against bone loss in postmenopausal women, according to research presented at the World Congress on Osteoporosis, Osteoarthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases in March 2022. In a study of 235 postmenopausal women, those who ate five to six prunes per day for a year maintained hip bone mineral density and were protected against hip fracture risk, while women who ate no prunes lost significant bone mass at the hip and increased their hip fracture risk. Prunes are rich in nutrients that support bone health.