A heart healthy diet may be confusing to you. It is to many people. Since February is Heart Health Month, it’s a good time to review how to eat for better heart health.
How should I eat for heart health?
Better heart health starts with a heart healthy diet. I don’t know about you, but everything in my life starts with food. I love good food; food with flavor, depth and creativity. I grew up eating meat, potatoes and a vegetable for dinner nearly every day…unless we had a casserole. Our meals were meat-centered. But there’s more to making heart healthy meals than plopping the three basic food groups on a plate.
Make Good Choices
A heart healthy diet is about making good choices most of the time. I believe you can eat anything you want, but some things should be eaten only in small amounts or rarely. Although I am Type II Diabetic and I have previously suffered a heart attack, I still eat a bite or two of dessert and I don’t deny myself meat. But I don’t eat meat every day nor do I ever eat a 12-ounce steak. As the saying goes, “everything in moderation.”
I focus on a heart healthy diet, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, a little bit of protein, healthy fats, and good whole grains. Because I am dairy intolerant and sensitive to gluten, I’m careful what I eat. I believe I healed myself with food. And I lost 40 pounds in the process, fully controlling my diabetes and heart disease.
Watch your portion control
The first rule of a heart healthy diet is to watch your portions. Fill up your plate only once; don’t go back for seconds. I try to follow the recommendations of the American Diabetic Association exchange list, which is darned confusing. In my opinion, it is confusing because the serving size is ridiculously small. For instance, one serving of cheese is one ounce. That’s about a 1-inch cube of cheese. Instead of saying you can eat 3 ounces of cheese, the nutritionist says it’s okay to eat three servings.
It takes a good bit of memorization to use the Diabetic Exchange Diet. I find this printable Diabetic Exchanges PDF from the University of California to be an excellent resource.
Use the plate method
Because the Diabetic Exchange Diet is so complicated, I suggest you use the “plate method” for portion control. Using a 10-inch plate, fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables (raw is best, but cooked is okay, too). Add lean meat or fish on one-quarter of the plate and fill the other one-quarter with whole grains or starchy vegetables. You’ll be on the simpler path to a heart healthy diet in no time.
Variety is the spice of life
Your body needs a wide range of foods to get all the nutrients it requires. That’s why you should rotate the foods you eat and “eat the rainbow.” Fruits and vegetables come in a variety of colors and contain different vitamins and minerals. By changing up your diet, you will start to get better nutrition, a wider variety of nutrients, and begin to heal your body. Eating different foods makes meals more interesting, too.
Try to eat at least one greens-containing salad each day. Greens are filled with fiber and micronutrients that are essential to a healthy body. Dr. Terry Wahls in her book The Wahls Protocol (affiliate link) recommends three cups of greens a day. That’s a lot! But if you eat that much, you will build up the good bacteria in your gut while also feeling “fuller” so you are less likely to reach for high-calorie snacks.
Rotating what you eat also has the benefit of reducing cravings while keeping food sensitivities at bay. Dr. Doris Rapp in her book, Is This Your Child? Discovering and Treating Unrecognized Allergies in Children and Adults (affiliate link) suggests foods to which you may be sensitive should not be eaten any more often than every 12 days. What a good way to get an assortment of foods in your meals.
What to Eat & What to Avoid
The often-touted Mediterranean Diet is a good heart healthy diet choice. It is primarily a plant-based diet, supplemented with healthy fats and a bit of meat or fish. According to the Mayo Clinic, the “main components of Mediterranean diet include:
- Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats
- Weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans and eggs
- Moderate portions of dairy products
- Limited intake of red meat”
The American Heart Association agrees with the Mediterranean Diet, saying that for a healthy heart, these are the foods to you should be eating on a regular basis:
- Fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen; or low-salt, low-sugar are best)
- Whole grains (the ones with all the fiber)
- Legumes and beans
- Nuts and seeds (be careful, they are high in fat)
- Plant-based proteins (like quinoa, peas, meat substitutes)
- Lean meat (for instance, skinless poultry or lean roast beef) and fish (especially oily fish like salmon with Omega-3 fatty acids)
- Healthy fats (in moderation), including olive oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, and avocados
- Herbs and spices (limit salt)
You’ll want to limit these foods:
- Animal fats/saturated fats, including butter, lard and bacon grease
- Sodium (salt)
- Red meat and fatty meats
- Processed foods (for example, refined carbohydrates with added sugar, luncheon meats, and processed grain)
- Full-fat dairy
- Coconut and palm oil
Anything with trans fats listed on the label should be avoided.
But IT AIN’T JUST THE DIET
I’m here to tell you it ain’t just the diet that is packing on those extra pounds. At least, it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t keep weight off for love nor money. When I stopped eating the foods that caused my food sensitivities and seasonal allergies, I lost more than 40 pounds. The weight just slipped off and stayed off.
I tell you my story, explain exactly how to test yourself for food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances, and give you the tools to do it in my new book, It Ain’t Just the Diet™ Food Journal | A Daily Guide to Finding & Managing Your Food Allergies, soon to be published. For updates and to get your own copy, subscribe to our email announcement list.
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This post was originally posted on Recipe Idea Shop February 13, 2021.
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Disclaimer: The author is not a health professional or nutritionist. She is offering her research and personal reflections about her health journey and is not providing any type of medical or nutritional advice. This post is for informational purposes only. It is offered as a tool for people to discover their own suspected health issues, food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities. Readers are highly encouraged to read, write, and reflect on the ideas presented. Consult your healthcare professional before initiating any dietary or exercise program.