According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally. In fact, there were nearly 697,000 deaths from heart disease in the U.S. in 2020 alone (CDC). Meaning, one in every five deaths in the U.S. was caused by heart disease. Furthermore, nearly 805,000 people had a heart attack in the United States in 2020, a medical emergency that occurs when the body suddenly restricts blood flow to the heart. The CDC estimates that someone in the U.S. will experience a heart attack every 40 seconds, making the risk of heart disease seem inescapable for everyday Americans. The good news is there are ways to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. A healthy diet and lifestyle can significantly lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Eating heart-healthy doesn’t need to be difficult. You can enjoy many of the foods you know and love while keeping your heart’s health in mind. Unlike many other diet strategies, eating a heart-healthy diet won’t require you to remove entire food groups from your plate. Try to aim for the following:
1) Make sure you have a variety of fruits and vegetables on your plate. Eating with variety ensures you’ll receive a larger amount of nutrients. One easy way to ensure you have a good variety of fruits and vegetables on your plate is to “eat the rainbow.” A plate with a colorful range of foods will likely have more nutrients than a plate with only green vegetables, etc.
2) Control your portion sizes. If you find that you have difficulty eating healthy portions of foods, try using a portion plate to manage your eating. Snacking less, maintaining a healthy level of hunger, and reducing the sodium in your diet will help you maintain proper portion sizes.
3) Keep track of your sources of fat. Try to limit sources of saturated fat like butter, high-fat meats, and whole milk dairy. While fats can increase your cholesterol, not all fats are bad for you. Foods like avocados, oils, nuts, and fish are healthier sources of fat.
4) Limit your sodium intake. It’s easy to have too much sodium in your diet without realizing it. Many people assume limiting the salt in your diet just means putting down your salt shaker. Unfortunately, many of the foods you already eat are probably high in sodium. Try low-sodium alternatives for broths, canned vegetables, and more.
A heart-healthy diet won’t just improve your heart health. The recommendations from the American Heart Association on a heart-healthy diet are very similar to the dietary recommendations from the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, and other health organizations.
“If you’re eating heart-healthy, you’re actually eating healthy overall for any condition,” said Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator, Gale Pearson of TPMG Nutrition Services in Newport News.
Eating healthy alone won’t prevent heart disease from happening. A healthy diet needs to be paired with a heart-healthy lifestyle which includes exercising more and smoking cessation. If you’re concerned about your diet when it comes to heart health, talk to a TPMG registered dietitian. By examining your unique needs and circumstances, a registered dietitian can develop a plan to get you back on track.
About Gale Pearson, MS, RDN, CDCES
Gale Pearson, MS, RDN, CDCES is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with over 25 years of experience working with patients on dietary and nutrition wellness planning. Gale received her undergraduate degree from Hampton University and her Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from Howard University.
With extensive experience in nutrition counseling, Gale works with her patients to develop strategies to improve their eating habits and lifestyles, in turn helping them to manage their weight and medical conditions. She credits witnessing her patients’ symptoms and overall health improvement as a result of the lifestyle changes as one of the most gratifying and rewarding aspects of her career.
At TPMG Nutrition Services in Newport News and Williamsburg, Gale provides one-on-one consultations, nutrition and weight management counseling, and diabetes education.