February is all about heart health! Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, but the good news is, risk factors for heart disease can often be reduced or prevented with lifestyle changes. Eating heart-healthy foods is an important step to overall heart health!
When it comes to heart health, the first thing many people think about is exercise. And exercise is important, whether you want to lose weight or maintain your weight. A combination of aerobic activity and strength training can help slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and improve blood circulation, which means that heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood to the muscles. Regular exercise is also key to weight control, and maintaining a healthy weight reduces stress on the heart and lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke.
But you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. The foods you eat play a huge role in improving heart health, reducing risk factors for disease, and increasing longevity.
Do you know what foods to avoid to improve your heart health? If you said fats, you’re on the right track. But the type of fat at play is crucial. Many fats — such as those found in fish and nuts — are good for your heart.
The worst type of fat to eat is trans fats, which are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils to make them more solid. Trans fats are usually listed in ingredients as “partially hydrogenated oils.” These fats have been shown to increase LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), lower HDL cholesterol (the good kind), and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. To reduce your exposure to trans fats, always read ingredients! Food labels can claim “0 grams of trans fats” even if they contain up to 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. Always check for “partially hydrogenated oils” in the ingredients list. These fats are often found in baked goods and packaged foods such as cookies, cakes, crackers, pie crust, frozen pizza, and margarine.
Eating too much sugar also increases the risk of dying from heart disease — even if you aren’t overweight. Sugar can raise blood pressure, harden the arteries, and cause inflammation — all of which are bad for your heart. In fact, a high-sugar diet may play a greater role in heart disease than the consumption of saturated fat. Watch your sugar intake, especially in the form of soda and sports drinks, where it can really add up. Choose healthier beverages, such as fruit-infused water or sugar-free water enhancers. Again, read labels — sugar is hidden in many foods, even foods that may seem healthy, like yogurt.
So, what should you eat to boost your heart health? Diets high in fruits and vegetables, as well as healthy fats, can reduce your risk of heart disease. But certain foods in particular provide additional heart-healthy benefits.
Make an effort to include more of these 10 foods in your diet:
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