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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Although there are many factors that contribute to heart disease, diet is one factor within your control. You can lower your risk for heart disease by making healthier food choices.

Get the nutrients you need

Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats that help reduce the risk of heart disease, as well as other chronic diseases such as cancer and arthritis. Because your body does not produce omega-3 fatty acids, your body’s supply must come from the foods that you eat.  For this nutrient, enjoy eating nuts and fish – particularly fatty fishes including albacore tuna
and salmon.

Dietary fiber also plays a role in heart health by reducing cholesterol levels and helping lower heart disease. In addition, foods with fiber usually help you feel fuller faster so you feel satisfied with fewer calories. Whole grains in whole-wheat bread and brown rice, are  good sources of dietary fiber. Other foods like oatmeal, beans, peas, cabbage and apples are good sources, too. 

Foods with phytochemicals (such as lycopene, carotenoids and flavanoids) are plant foods that protect against heart disease. Fruits and vegetables, incluing berries, tomatoes, spinach, carrots and broccoli, are great sources of these
natural nutrients.

Skip the salt

Your body only needs 500-milligrams (mg) of sodium daily to maintain health. Excess sodium causes your body to swell. This strains your heart and blood vessels, causing them to work harder to pump blood through your body, putting them at risk for damage. Reduce your sodium intake to the American Heart Association’s recommended 1,500-mg per day by avoiding high sodium foods like chips, salted snacks and cured meats.

Many foods, especially processed foods, harbor “hidden” sodium. Check the food labels for a better idea of what’s in the package. Foods between 10-20 percent daily values are considered moderate sodium foods, and those with a value of 20 percent or greater are considered high sodium foods.

Limit alcohol

While some alcohol consumption may actually protect against heart disease, more than a moderate amount can be damaging. It can lead to high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and stroke. Because everyone reacts to alcohol differently, speak with your doctor about your alcohol consumption, especially if you are at risk for heart disease.

Other advantages of heart-healthy eating

When it comes to nutrition, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. By eating nutritious foods, you receive the health benefits of those individual foods, as well as the added benefits that result from a healthy diet.

A balanced diet is an important part of weight loss and management. And, maintaining a healthy weight lowers your risk for heart disease. Fat carried in your midsection (your abdominal fat) is directly correlated to your risk of heart disease. Eating healthy also helps protect against other chronic disease, such as diabetes, which can increase the risks of
heart disease.

A truly healthy diet combines portion control and the proper foods. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, each meal should be about 50 percent fruits and vegetables, 25 percent lean meat or protein and 25 percent whole grain. If you need assistance planning your heart-healthy diet or have questions about heart disease, speak with
your physician.

Dr. DeVries is a cardiologist with ProMedica Physicians, practicing in Fostoria. For more information, please visit www.ppgdocs.org.