A variety of healthy foods will jump-start a heart-healthy lifestyle. (Photo: Lisovskaya, Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Becoming heart-healthy isn’t just changing your diet — though that’s a large part of it — it’s about making healthy choices in multiple areas of your lifestyle. And just like any big life change, it doesn’t happen overnight, so give yourself some time to explore just how heart-healthy decisions and activities fit into your life.
For food choices, Craig Winkler, the director of Food & Nutritional Services at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital, suggests the simplicity of fresh vegetables and fruits, along with whole grains, fresh fish, leafy greens, olive oil and protein-packed nuts. Why? They are full of vitamins and minerals that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. To make your veggie transition easier:
- Once a week, wash and chop all your vegetables then stash them in your fridge for fast access.
- Keep fruit somewhere visible near the fridge so you remember to eat them.
- Intentionally choose recipes that call for fresh vegetables or fruits as the main ingredients
“When eating salads, avoid creamy or heavy salad dressings. Your best choice is a good olive oil with vinegar,” Winkler says. “Grilled or broiled food are usually one of the best ways to prepare heart healthy food, avoiding too many carbohydrates and sugar.”
He stresses the importance of not only fresh produce but fresh meats as well. “If you look at ground turkey patties at the fresh food counter, the only ingredient is ground turkey; but if you buy the same turkey patties from the freezer section, there are almost 25 ingredients and most of the ingredients are fillers and preservatives.”
But what about shopping for heart healthy foods? Winkler says to avoid prepackaged food, carbs and products higher in saturated fat, cholesterol and sugar.
“Shopping can be difficult as most food labels are deceiving. For instance, you can buy a package of low-sodium bacon and you can buy a package of regular for bacon. If you look at the ingredients, they are the same; the only difference is the serving size. In the low-sodium package the serving size is one strip. In the regular package the serving size two strips.”
It’s not just what you eat, it’s how much. We’ve been taught to clean our plates — but that may not be the best practice — it’s most likely too much food. Beware of restaurant portions as they are usually larger than healthy portion sizes too (see our tips for ordering healthy at a restaurant).
If at all possible, avoid all fast food restaurants. Not only should you eliminate fried food (along with the massive amounts of salt and fat added), but it’s harder to eat smaller portions. To limit your portions:
- Use a smaller plate — thereby limiting how much food you take. Before you get seconds, rest for a few minutes and drink water to see if you’re still hungry.
- Eat larger portions of low-calorie, whole, nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and smaller portions of high-calorie, high-sodium foods. Check our section about the food pyramid for guidance.
- Know what portion sizes are. What does a cup or ounce look like on your plate? Think of a hockey puck: 1/3 to 1/2 cup is about the size of a hockey puck. A serving of meat, fish or chicken is about 2 to 3 ounces, or about the size and thickness of a deck of cards.
“Moderation is the key to a healthy diet,” notes Winkler. “It’s OK to have a steak or a burger on occasion but when you do, try to have a lean steak or burger on the grill.”
Winkler even suggests upsetting the age-old food pyramid and follow a Mediterranean diet instead which is a mix of culinary traditions from Spain, Italy, Greece and the Middle East. For example, a meal would consist of:
- 1-1/2 cups of fresh veggies
- 1/2 cup fruit
- 1/2 cup legumes
- 2-3 oz. of fish or white meat
- 1 cup whole grains
- 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
When eating out, in addition to limiting your portion size by asking for a carry-out container, remember cocktails and appetizers add fat, sodium, sugar and calories. Maybe say “no thanks” to the complimentary bread or chips and salsa!
Next, order so that your plate is full of color. Colorful meals usually feature lots of fruits and veggies. And don’t be afraid to ask for substitutes — swapping potatoes for broccoli. Ask that toppings like butter, cheese, sauces and dressings be served on the side as not to drown your good food in unhealthy fat.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring. Once you get the hang of controlling your portions, use these great recipes from Abrazo’s kitchen. We’ve got you covered — from breakfast to dessert!
Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital is once again bringing its healthy heart mission to the public. In a free event on February 15, 2019, at JW Marriott at Desert Ridge, cardiovascular health takes center stage. To RSVP, call 877-934-9355 or visit abrazohealth.com.
Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA Today Network were not involved in the creation of this content.
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