Keeping your heart healthy with healthy eating

Knowing which foods to consume and which to avoid is essential to keeping the heart functioning properly. Eating healthy foods helps control high blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol levels, which are three major risk factors in the development of heart disease.

University of Iowa cardiologist, Ramzi El Accaoui, M.D., recommends these elements for maintaining a heart healthy diet:

  • Consume four to five servings of fruits and vegetables every day
  • Consume whole grains instead of refined grains
  • Consume white meat (poultry and seafood)
  • Consume beans instead of red meat as a source of protein
  • Understand the nutritional labels on food
  • Limit sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day
  • Reduce the consumption of trans fats (margarines and fast food)

Dr. El Accaoui also discourages his patients from consuming sweetened beverages and sodas, because they are very high in sugar. Several studies have shown that the consumption of sugary drinks is associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart attacks, he says.

Consider these three heart-healthy diets

Three diets Dr. El Accaoui lists as having heart healthy benefits are the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet, and the Ornish spectrum diet.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet (DASH)

This diet is rich in fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, whole grains, nuts, fish, and poultry. This diet is low in sugar-sweetened products and red meat. It is particularly beneficial for patients with high blood pressure, especially when combined with low salt intake.

The Mediterranean Diet

This diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. This diet has a larger quantity of fish and poultry than of red meat.

The Ornish Spectrum

This is a diet in which foods are categorized from the most heart healthy (group one) to the least heart healthy (group five).

Although eating healthy can reduce the risk of heart disease, Dr. El Accaoui says, “smoking is probably the most important modifiable risk for heart disease.”

“Even if you have a heart condition that requires treatment beyond changing your lifestyle, you can’t go wrong by eating healthy, exercising regularly, and stopping smoking.”

Last reviewed: 
January 2017

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