Tips for Heart-Smart Living

It's no secret that eating wisely will go a long way toward keeping your heart at its personal best. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Get creative with healthy foods

What could be more fun than creating a food plan? As a rule, you want to make your calories work for you and get every benefit you can from what you eat. Focus on these food groups: fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish.

  1. Fruits and veggies: Packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber.
    Benefits: Help control weight and lower blood pressure.
    Servings: Eight or more each day; aim for a wide variety.
  2. Whole grains: Look for the heartiness of unprocessed whole grains like barley, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta.
    Benefits: High in fiber, these help lower cholesterol and keep you feeling full—so you don't overeat or graze all day.
    Servings: Six per day.
  3. Fish: Eat fresh- and saltwater fish like salmon and trout.
    Benefits: Protein-rich and free from saturated fats.
    Servings: Two per week.
Understanding label lingo

Believe it or not, just reading food labels can help keep cholesterol in check. Avoid "bad" fats like saturated and trans fats, found in hydrogenated oils, which can damage your heart. Instead, choose foods made with the "good" fats (poly- and monounsaturated fats) that actually offer heart-healthy benefits.

Saturated fats go by many names, so don't be fooled. They include cocoa butter and/or coconut, palm and palm kernel oils. Another thing to watch out for: hydrogenated oil. It's loaded with harmful trans fats, which, along with saturated fats, are the main dietary cause of high cholesterol.

The next time you get the munchies, ditch the sugary processed stuff and reach for fresh whole foods—an apple, baby carrots or unsalted nuts.

What to drink? Instead of cola or coffee, try water with a splash of fruit juice. Even a tall glass of cool water without the fruit embellishment begins to taste fine when you realize just how much good it's doing for your body and your heart.

One more thing: To maintain your weight, make sure you burn as many calories as you take in each day. If you stick with reading nutrition labels and keep a food-and-exercise log, you'll learn how to make this balance work for you.

Don't lose the love—just the handles!

If you've got the kind of handles we're talking about here, the best thing you can do for your heart—not to mention your waistline—is control your calories. Why? Doctors once relied on a calculation called the body mass index (BMI)—a measure of body fat based on a person's height and weight—to assess your risk of coronary heart disease. While they still use that tool, what's more important, experts say, is how your weight is distributed, rather than simply whether or not you're overweight.

Published August 2011

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