Heart disease is the number one killer of American men and women. By consuming a heart healthy diet, you will reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and many diseases too. A heart healthy diet will reduce your risk factor of stroke, which is the number three cause of death in the United States. Studies show that eating a heart healthy diet can reduce your risk of heart disease or stroke by 80%.

Heart healthy diets not only help your heart, but your cholesterol levels too. There are two types of cholesterol — low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, which is known as “bad” cholesterol. There is also high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, which is known as “good” cholesterol. When LDL circulates in the blood, it can clog and narrow the inner walls of the arteries. Scientists now think that good cholesterol – HDL — protects the heart. When your HDL drops to less than 40 mg/dL, it increases the risk of heart disease.

The heart healthy diet: The history

The heart healthy diet is the result of ongoing nutrition research by organizations including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the American Heart Association (AHA). The department first issued dietary recommendations for Americans in an 1894 Farmer’s Bulletin. Written by W.O. Atwater, the first director of the Office of Experiment Stations in USDA, he suggested diets based on protein, carbohydrate, fat, and mineral matter. Specific minerals and vitamins had not been identified at that time.

Today we know a lot more about nutrition. We know that overconsumption of certain foods including fats, saturated fats, cholesterol, and sodium causes the increases your risk factor of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and stroke.

There are a number of different diets that have been formulated specifically for heart health. The MyPyramid or MyPlate eating plan is based on theDietary Guidelines for Americans. It was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help people lower their risk of serious diseases linked to diet, including heart disease. Another popular diet for cardiac health is The Heart Healthy Diet. It was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to help people keep their blood levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (or “bad” cholesterol) low. Both diets are scientifically proven to help with heart health.

Heart healthy diet: how to do it

If you want to eat a heart healthy diet, there are certain principles that should guide your eating habits, and guide the many heart healthy diets available. They are:

  1. Eat a balanced diet with plenty of high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts. Reduce consumption of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods and beverages.
  2. Eat fish, especially oily fish (such as salmon, trout, and mackerel), at least twice a week. Oily fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower the risk of death from heart disease.
  3. Get at least 5 – 10% of daily calories from omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, corn, and soybean as well as nuts and seeds.
  4. Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
  5. Limit daily consumption of foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol, such as red meat, shellfish, and egg yolks.
  6. Limit consumption of trans-fatty acids (found in fast foods and commercially baked products) to less than 1% of total daily calories.
  7. Replace saturated and trans-fats with unsaturated fats from plant and fish oils. Less than 7 % of your daily calories should come from saturated fats.
  8. Restrict your salt intake. Try to limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (1 teaspoon) of salt a day. Middle-aged and older people should aim for 1,500 milligrams or fewer of sodium a day, as should people with high blood pressure.
  9. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation (1 drink per day for women, 2 drinks per day for men).
  10. Exercise regularly (at least 30 minutes a day, at moderate-high intensity) so that you burn as many calories as you consume to maintain a healthy weight.

Pros of the Heart Healthy Diet

Heart disease is the number one killer of American men and women. Choosing and maintaining a heart healthy diet will also help prevent the risk of many other diseases including diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome. It will also reduce your risk factor for stroke, which is the number three cause of death in the United States. A heart healthy diet will also help reduce your bad cholesterol, or LDL, known as “bad” cholesterol. It will increase your HDL, or “good” cholesterol, which will help protect your heart. And heart healthy diets are specially designed for optimum nutrition and a strong immune system.

Cons of the heart healthy diet

The main challenge of eating a heart healthy diet is that, in general, it costs more to eat natural, unprocessed foods including nuts and grains, proteins comprised of lean meats and fish, fresh fruits and veggies, rather than processed foods. Sadly, filling up on those foods that are bad for you – white breads, hot dogs, etc., aren’t just easier, they are cheaper too. To keep costs down, try cooking from home. And look for discounts or coupons that will save you in food costs.

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