Be Good to Your Heart with 4 Heart Healthy Tips

It’s February which means it’s American Heart Month, a time to raise awareness of heart disease and promote simple lifestyle changes to help prevent heart disease. At Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating we are committed to promoting heart health with balanced meals that follow the American Heart Association guidelines for sodium, dietary fat, cholesterol, fiber, and added sugars.

In honor of American Heart Month, this blog will cover four “Be Good to Your Heart” tips to help you make changes that to lower your blood pressure, improve your cholesterol, and promote overall good health.

Be Good to Your Heart Tip #1: Cut the salt

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association both recommend 2300 mg of sodium or less per day. The average American consumes 3400 mg of sodium on average in a day, that’s over 1000 mg more than the recommendations! While sodium is an essential nutrient that we should not eliminate completely, too much salt is not good for our health.

According to the American Heart Association, eating less sodium can help reduce your risk of a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and even headaches. Even if you don't add salt to your foods you could be getting too much sodium. More than 75% of the sodium we consume comes from packaged, prepared, and restaurant foods.

One estimate found that if Americans cut their sodium to 1500 mg per day this would result in 500,000 to 1.2 million fewer cardiovascular disease-related deaths over the next 10 years. Take steps now to lower the salt in your diet. Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Prepare more meals at home, using fresh, low-sodium ingredients. When you cook at home YOU are in control. You can limit the amount of salt added, choose lower-sodium ingredients, and control your portions better.
  2. Switch to herbs, spices, and salt-free seasoning blends to season your food. Aromatics such as onions, garlic, vinegar, and even citrus fruits can also add wonderful flavor while limiting salt. Using these ingredients will make your meals flavorful while keeping the sodium low. Not to mention, herbs and spices have additional anti-inflammatory benefits.
  3. Start reading nutrition labels. Salt hides in our foods, some of your go-to items may be contributing a lot of salt without you even realizing it. Items like cottage cheese, bread, deli meats, and condiments are often hidden sources of salt. By reading labels, you will start to identify which foods are adding a lot of salt to your diet. The “Salty 6” is a group of 6 foods put together by the American Heart Association (link to salty 6). It features foods that contribute a lot of salt to the diet. They include bread, pizza, sandwiches, cold cuts & cured meats, soup, and burritos, and tacos. If you eat a lot of these foods, it is likely you’re not following a low-salt diet!
  4. When using canned foods, select versions that specify “No Salt Added.” There may be some salt still listed on the label, but the sodium will be only what is naturally present in that food and will be much lower than regular canned items. Check the ingredients…it should be the food item and water, that’s it! You can also drain and rinse canned foods in fresh, cold water. This simple step can cut the sodium up to 40%!

Be Good to Your Heart Tip #2: Increase healthy fats.

The American Heart Association recommends replacing saturated and trans fat with unsaturated fat as part of a healthy diet. Healthier sources of fats include poly- and mono-unsaturated fats. These types of fats come from plant sources. They are often liquid at room temperature such as olive oil, avocado oil, and canola oil rather than butter, lard, and coconut oil. Other sources of these healthy fats include avocado, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. These unsaturated fats can lower rates of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality, lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides, and provide essential fats your body needs.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can have a beneficial effect on your heart when eaten in moderation and when used to replace saturated and trans fats. These types of fat can help provide nutrients which help develop and maintain body cells, such as Vitamin E. Vitamin E is an antioxidant vitamin that many Americans fall short on.

Food high in polyunsaturated fat include:

  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower seeds/soybean oil
  • Tofu
  • Soybeans/soybean oil

Foods high in monounsaturated fat include:

  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Avocados
  • Peanuts, peanut butter, peanut oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sesame Oil
  • Many nuts and seeds

The American Heart Association recommends including 2 servings of fish per week as part of a healthy diet. The best benefit comes from fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna as they are higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. A serving is considered a 3.5 ounce cooked fillet or about ¾ cup of flaked fish (about the size of your hand held flat, from the tip of your longest finger to the bottom of your palm).

Including nuts as a regular part of your diet is a good way to increase healthy fats in your diet too. Nuts are an easy addition as they are portable and require no refrigeration or cooking. Besides healthy fats, nuts will boost the protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in your diet. Walnuts, in particular, are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids. A serving of nuts is a small handful or 1.5 ounces. Add them to oatmeal, salads, snack mixes, stir-fry, or yogurt.

Be Good to Your Heart Tip #3: Limit saturated and avoid trans fats.

The American Heart Association recommends aiming for 6% of calories from saturated fats and avoiding all trans fats. This means eating less high-fat animal products and processed foods.

Saturated fats come from animal sources and tropical oils. Examples would be full-fat dairy, cheese, high-fat meats, and coconut oil. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature. They have been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and raise bad cholesterol levels. It is important to note that they do not recommend eliminating these items completely, but to limit them by eating smaller portions less often.

Examples of foods high in saturated fat include:

  • Beef, pork, lamb, poultry with skin
  • Lard and cream
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Full-fat dairy products
  • Tropical oils such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil

Trans fatty acids are an artificial fat that is often found in processed foods and fast foods. It is often listed on the ingredient list as partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fats have been found to increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. They can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

In November 2013, the FDA made a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer Generally Recognized as Safe in the food supply. Since then there has been a shift in the food industry to cut back on their use of trans fat. However, you can still find partially hydrogenated oils on food labels. If you find this ingredient in an item it is best to avoid it, even it states that it has 0g trans-fat on the nutrition facts panel.

Steer clear of tropical oils, such as palm and coconut oil, which can have a lot of saturated fats. It is best to stick to oils lower in saturated fat, with no partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats. Choosing oils that are liquid at room temperature over solid is another way to know you are getting more of the heart-healthy fats.

Be Good to Your Heart Tip #4: Fill up on fiber.

Filling your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans is an easy way to be good to your heart. These plant foods are full of fiber which offers the body amazing benefits. Dietary fiber can help improve blood cholesterol and lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and even type 2 diabetes. Fiber also is very filling which can help you feel satisfied while eating fewer calories, helping you maintain a healthy weight. Dietary fiber also helps keep our bowels moving and acts as a food source for the healthy bacteria in our digestive tract providing both digestive and immune system boosts. Foods high in fiber also provide many nutrients such as Vitamin B1 (thiamine), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), niacin, folate, iron, magnesium, and selenium.

When purchasing food, there are a few things to look for to determine if you are getting a fiber-filled item. And no…you can’t tell by the color! Let’s cover the basics for finding wholesome fiber-filled foods:

  • Bread can be brown because they have molasses added to them. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because the bread is brown because it is whole grain. Look for the word ‘whole’ on the label and in the ingredients. All of the ingredients are in order of most present to least present, so finding grains where the first ingredient is “whole” means that there is more whole grain than other ingredients.
  • Choose whole fruits and vegetables, rather than canned, juice, or pureed (such as applesauce). Frozen or fresh are great options, with berries and green peas topping the list for fiber content. Leave the skins on fruits and potatoes to increase their fiber content. Try to get 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
  • Add beans and lentils to your grocery list. These items are nutrition powerhouses and can add significant fiber to your meals. Add them to salads, soups, mix into meat mixtures or enjoy them as an easy side dish. One-cup of beans can add 10-16 grams of fiber, which will help you easily reach your fiber goals.
  • Read food labels (yes, again!). Some products can look great but when you inspect the food label, it’s just really good marketing. (I’m looking at you kids’ breakfast cereals!) Many products will market whole grains on the front of their packaging or tout that they are high in fiber. Looking at the Nutrition Facts and ingredient list will give you the best idea of if they are a good choice. One popular breakfast cereal is guilty of this. Once you look on the side of the box you discover that there is sugar as the first ingredient and whole-grain comes later. Plus, the high fiber on the front of the box is only because they doubled the serving size.

It is recommended to aim for 14 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories you eat. For a 1200 calorie diet, that is a goal of about 17 grams per day. For a 2000 calorie diet, that is a goal of 28 grams of fiber daily.

If you currently follow a lower fiber diet, it is recommended to slowly increase the amount of fiber in your diet and to drink plenty of water. This will help your body adjust to more fiber and prevent any abdominal pain and gas that can occur with a sharp increase in fiber intake.

At Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating we are proud that all of our meal plans follow the guidelines from the American Heart Association. Following a heart healthy diet shouldn’t be difficult, boring, and tasteless! By following these four “Be Good to Your Heart” tips you will have flavorful, healthy meals and your heart will thank you! 

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