A healthy diet that is low in salt (sodium), saturated fat, and sugar is key to heart disease prevention. If you eat too much salt, the extra water stored in your body raises your blood pressure. So, the more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure. Higher blood pressure (also referred to as “hypertension”) puts greater strain on your heart and other organs like your kidneys. Eating foods that contain saturated fat raises the level of cholesterol in your blood. High levels of low-density (“bad”) cholesterol in your blood increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. When you eat excess sugar, it triggers extra insulin in your bloodstream, which can affect your arteries. It causes your artery walls to get inflamed, grow thicker than normal and stiffer, which stresses your heart and damages it over time.
Here are some ideas for achieving and maintaining a healthy diet:
Try adopting the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. This is a balanced and scientifically proven plan to help reduce hypertension. It recommends eating fruits and vegetables as well as foods that are rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fat such as fish and nuts; limiting foods that are high in salt and saturated fat; and limiting sugar and other sweeteners. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) offers a variety of DASH-friendly recipes on its website.
Go grocery shopping with your family for healthy ingredients and share heart healthy recipes with friends. To keep you motivated, make these activities fun. For example, host a potluck at your work and encourage everyone to bring a heart healthy dish and copies of the recipe, or host a cookoff at your house using only heart healthy ingredients.
Plan out your menu for several days in advance or the entire week. Meal preparation cuts down on the compulsion to grab something ‘on the go’ like prepackaged food, which is often high in salt and/or sugar.
Make one or more days a week a salt-free day. Use herbs for flavor instead of salt.
Fill half of your lunch and dinner plates with vegetables.
Swap the sweets for a piece of fruit for dessert.
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