The kitchen is considered the "heart of the home," so why not stock your kitchen with foods that are good for your heart? A heart-healthy diet helps lower cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. Eating heart-healthy foods can also help increase your energy and may help you lose weight. By stocking your kitchen with nutritious flavorful foods, you and your family can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and obesity. Below are five ways to make your kitchen heart healthy.
Reduce Saturated and Trans Fats
An important improvement you can make to your diet is limiting saturated and trans fats, which raise cholesterol levels. You can control how much saturated fat you consume by avoiding packaged foods like chips and cookies, and limiting solid fats like butter, margarine, or shortening. Not all fats are bad for your heart. Choose foods rich in unsaturated fats that are essential for good health. These include omega-3 fatty acids (fish, canola oil, walnuts), omega-6 fatty acids (vegetable oils, soy nuts, seeds), and monounsaturated fats (almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, avocados).
Don't Replace Bad Fats with Sugar
"Low-fat" meal options may seem like healthy alternatives, but many of these products are actually not good for your heart. Many "low-fat" foods take out the saturated fat and replace it with added sugar to improve the taste. Sugar hidden in foods such as ketchup, pasta sauce, cereals, frozen dinners, etc., adds up to a lot of empty calories you don't need. Try cutting back on sugar by reading food labels and choosing products that are naturally low in sugar. Prepare meals using fresh ingredients, and avoid sugary-tasting drinks like diet sodas that contain artificial sweeteners.
Avoid Salt and Processed Foods
Reducing the salt in your diet is a big part of any heart-healthy plan. Consuming large amounts of salt can contribute to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Most of the salt you eat comes from canned or processed food, so opt for fresh foods and add flavor with herbs like basil, thyme, or chives. Choose condiments labeled sodium-free, low sodium, or unsalted.
Eat More Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are essential in a heart-healthy kitchen. They are packed full of natural vitamins, minerals and fiber, and are low in fat, cholesterol, and salt. Choose vibrant red, orange, and yellow vegetables and fruits (tomatoes, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, peppers, oranges, etc.), as well as green vegetables (spinach, broccoli, lettuce, etc.). Mixing different fruits and vegetables will ensure that you are getting a good variety of vitamins and minerals. Having these stocked in your kitchen makes it easier to include vegetables in most meals.
Eat Your Whole Grains
A diet high in fiber can lower "bad" cholesterol and provide nutrients that help protect against heart disease. There are many simple ways to make whole grains an integral part of your diet. Try substituting white bread with whole-grain bread. When baking, try using whole-grain flour instead of white flour. Experiment with brown rice, wild rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta, and bulgur. These alternatives are higher in fiber than their mainstream counterparts and can be a flavorful component of a heart-healthy diet.
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