Heart disease kills an estimated 630,000 Americans each year. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD), which can lead to heart attack. You can greatly reduce your risk for CAD through lifestyle changes, such as eating a heart-healthy diet. There are many ways to do this:
Kick the salt shaker habit
On average Americans consume 3,500 mg of sodium each day, about three-quarters of which comes from processed and restaurant foods. Cutting sodium intake in half would prevent 150,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease each year, according to estimates from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. To reduce sodium intake, opt for more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods.
Add heart-healthy fats
A diet rich in monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids can lower blood fats called triglycerides. The highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold water fish, such as wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, halibut or herring; the American Heart Association recommends at least two servings of fish per-week. Monounsaturated fats have been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Good sources of monounsaturated fat include olive oil, avocado, nuts and nut butters.
Eat more fiber
Aim for 35 to 40 grams of dietary fiber per day. Fiber helps to lower cholesterol by binding with it and pulling it out of the system. A study at the University of Kentucky found that people who added fiber to their regular diets were able to lower their LDL cholesterol levels by as much as 25 percent. Fiber also aids in successful weight management; since fiber-rich foods are more filling, you’ll feel satisfied eating less throughout the day.
Spice it up
Numerous studies have shown that spices can help improve cardiovascular health. Cayenne pepper is known to strengthen the heart, arteries and capillaries and lower cholesterol levels. A study published in the Journal Diabetes Care found that half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day reduces LDL cholesterol levels. A USDA study found that, gram for gram, oregano has the highest antioxidant activity of 27 fresh culinary herbs. Garlic is known to help lower blood cholesterol and ginger is a natural blood thinner and anti-inflammatory agent.
Choose foods rich in antioxidants
Good heart health depends on open, flexible arteries that can deliver blood efficiently throughout the body. Dark chocolate and cocoa, as well as plant-based compounds found in red wine and green tea, are high in antioxidants, which help fight cell damage from free radicals in the bloodstream that can cause fatty plaque to build up on artery walls.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a nationally known registered dietitian based in New York and the creator of a proprietary high-fiber nutrition program for weight loss, wellness and for treating various medical conditions. Tanya authored the bestselling weight loss book The F-Factor Diet, and she is the first dietitian with a national line of high-fiber foods, which are sold under the F-Factor name. Become a fan of Tanya on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn, and visit her website Ffactor.com.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.