It's no secret that our fast-paced lives sometimes lead us to fast food and quick fixes for meals, but that can turn into a recipe for nutritional disaster if you make it a habit over time. Healthy eating, especially combined with regular physical activity, ensures that you get important nutrients, helps control your weight and blood glucose levels, keeps your blood pressure down, and lowers your cholesterol.
Top 10 Rules for Heart-Smart Living
1. Eat a balanced, varied diet containing healthy ingredients from the four main food groups (visit the American Diabetes Association nutrition page).
2. Bulk up on 100% whole grains for fiber and 5-10 servings per day of richly colored fruits and vegetables.
3. Trim bad fats like saturated and trans and get healthy monounsaturated fats from ingredients like canola oil, salmon or other fatty fish, nuts and avocados.
4. Eat seafood 2-3 times per week.
5. Try meat alternatives like beans and tofu and milk alternatives like soy milk.
6. Pass on adding salt to your food to keep blood pressure in check.
7. Be mindful of serving sizes and the number of calories you consume daily.
8. Limit your intake of alcohol, caffeine and sugar.
9. Strive for 30-60 minutes a day of exercise, and 60-90 minutes of physical activity per day for children (visit the American Diabetes Association fitness page).
10. Minimize stress and get plenty of sleep.
You need a little fat in your diet for good health. Oils and fats supply energy, carry flavors, and help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A, D, E, and K. But make sure it's the right kind of fat unsaturated. Limit your intake of saturated and trans fats, which can negatively impact your cholesterol, thereby increasing your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Switching to canola oil is one of the easiest and most affordable changes you can make to help reduce your risk of heart disease (learn more about canola oil and health at canolainfo.org).
The Good Guys
Monounsaturated fat has been shown to improve cholesterol levels. It is found in canola oil, canola mayonnaise, avocados, sesame seeds, and some nuts, such as almonds and hazelnuts.
Polyunsaturated fats can lower "bad" LDL cholesterol levels. Two types omega-3 and omega-6 fats are considered essential in the diet, because the human body cannot make them on its own. Studies show that omega-3 fat may help protect the heart. The best sources of omega-3 are fatty fish, such as salmon, rainbow trout, and albacore tuna, as well as canola oil, canola mayonnaise, walnuts, eggs enriched with omega-3, and flaxseed. Omega-6 fat is found in many packaged foods; soybean, sunflower, corn, and cottonseed oils; and sunflower seeds and nuts, such as pecans and Brazil nuts.
The Bad Guys
Saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol are a risk factor for heart disease. People with diabetes are already at high risk for heart disease, so limiting saturated fat intake can help lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. The American Diabetes Association recommends that no more than 7% of your daily calories come from saturated fat. Foods high in saturated fat include poultry skin, full-fat dairy products, butter, lard, coconut and palm oils, cream sauces, homemade gravy, and fatty meats, such as bacon, hot dogs, sausage, and ribs.
Trans fat: This artery-clogger raises LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels and can also lower HDL ("good") cholesterol levels for a double whammy. As a result, the American Diabetes Association advises eating as little trans fat as possible by avoiding foods that contain it. Trans fat is found in stick margarines, some fast foods (French fries, doughnuts), and some packaged products, such as crackers, cookies, and baked goods. Check nutrition labels for trans fat and ingredient lists for partially hydrogenated oils.
Dietary cholesterol: About 20% of the cholesterol in your body comes from the foods you eat. Foods that have high levels of dietary cholesterol include egg yolks, organ meats, shrimp, squid, and fatty meats, so eat them in moderation. Foods high in saturated and trans fats also raise your blood cholesterol.